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Are school punishments too harsh?

Adult criminals who commit the severest misdemeanors such as fourth-degree assault and driving under the influence can receive a sentence of up to one year in prison.

Lesser crimes such as carrying a concealed weapon may carry a sentence of only up to six months.

So, how do children’s behavioral punishments measure up?

The Oregon Trail School District policy on expulsion states that children receive an expulsion hearing after a second behavioral incident. But in the case of controlled substances, the punishment is immediate and severe.

For a first offense, the child could receive a minimum sentence of suspension for up to 10 days. The maximum offense is expulsion.

Wendy, a single mother whose 13-year-old daughter was expelled from Cedar Ridge Middle School for eight months, says her daughter’s ongoing punishment is extreme.

In May 2013, Wendy’s daughter confessed to bringing alcohol to school and sharing it with other students. Wendy said her daughter had a history of being bullied by her peers.

The girl was suspended from the school pending a disciplinary hearing, which took place just before school started in September. Wendy said her daughter admitted to the hearing committee that she brought the alcohol to share so she would have more friends. She was told she could not return to school or any Oregon Trail School District campus until February 2014.

Dr. Murl Silvey is a clinical psychologist whose practice is at Mt. Hood Counseling, 36840 Industrial Way in Sandy. Silvey, who specializes in developmental psychology, says expulsion may not be the best option for every student.

Silvey said it’s not uncommon for children who have been bullied to go along with what the bullies want in order to stop the cycle. He said Wendy’s daughter seems to be what he referred to as an “immature conformist,” a type of student who may not benefit well from expulsion.

“A year’s worth of expulsion is pretty intense,” Silvey said. “When she returns, she then will be even more anxious and insecure.”

Silvey suggested that one month would be a better time period.

Debbie Johnson, director of teaching and learning at the Oregon Trail School District, is in charge of expulsion hearings. She says every expulsion sentence is different; factors such as age, intent and severity come into play.

When it comes to a student simply bringing alcohol to school for himself or herself, punishments are less. But once a student shares with another student, it is seen as endangering another child and the period of punishment is lengthened.

“That’s part of the challenge of being an administrator,” Johnson said. “It depends on the situation and the student.”

Johnson also said students who have a clean record are not usually treated with more leniency than students who have had past behavior problems.

“Really good kids and really smart kids make really bad decisions sometimes,” she said. “We can’t hold them to a lesser standard. It just depends, and that’s what makes it so hard.”

Wendy is not denying that her daughter did anything wrong, but she has seen the consequences of her daughter’s social isolation, and it’s starting to cause her concern.

“I understand that she did something wrong,” Wendy said. “And she knows that.”

In the past, Wendy’s eighth-grader had been involved in volleyball, band and activities, all of which she has been denied access to during her expulsion.

As a single working mother, Wendy said she does not have time to devote to making sure her daughter is getting the complete academic help she needs.

Unable to transport her back and forth to a personal tutor offered by the district, Wendy decided her daughter would use the Blended Learning Center instead.

Dr. Dave Wenzel, a licensed counselor at River Ridge Counseling, 17150 University Ave., also in Sandy, has a different view on how parents should handle expulsions.

Not only does Wenzel work with students and parents dealing with this punishment, he has experienced it firsthand. Last spring, Wenzel’s son was expelled from school.

He was caught distributing a controlled substance and, like Wendy’s daughter, was automatically expelled.

Wenzel’s family took on the consequences in a way that would help his son learn from the experience. They made use of the tutor the district offered as well as Sandy businesses such as the Impact Learning Center and AntFarm for group and individual tutoring.

They also took on the responsibility as a family to make sure that Wenzel’s son was getting constructive learning experiences out of his extra time. Wenzel and his wife asked family friends to teach him techniques such as gardening, cooking and welding.

Wenzel said it’s important for parents to ask and create in such situations.

“Go on a pay it forward mentality,” Wenzel said. “The community wants to invest in children and their futures.”

Johnson said the school district is unable to discuss the cases of specific students and was unable to confirm whether the bullies were dealt with.

Wendy added that unfortunately she plans to move out of the school district because of the extreme bullying her daughter has endured.