Here's a bit of good work by the Oregon Legislature that flew under the radar this session: Legislators approved House Bill 2192, which restores a measure of discretion to school districts on whether to expel students who bring any sort of weapon to school, regardless of intent.
State law previously required those students to be expelled for no less than a year.
You probably can guess what happens to many of those students, who tend to be struggling in the first place. Untethered from the support and structure that schools can provide, these students are considerably more likely to get into trouble or become victimized themselves. It got to the point where law enforcement officials and school administrators alike referred to expulsion as the first step in the "school-to-prison pipeline."
Now, thanks to HB 2192, districts can take some steps to help close the pipeline.
The law previously required school districts to have a policy mandating expulsion for at least a year any time a student brought any kind of "weapon" to school. HB 2192 tightens that language, making the one-year expulsion mandatory in cases involving a "firearm."
The end result, as explained to us by Corvallis Rep. Sara Gelser, the chairwoman of the House Education Committee, is that school administrators now have more flexibility to use their professional judgment in determining when an expulsion is needed.
Gelser said the old language was so broad that if a student had a pocket knife in his backpack, administrators might have found themselves with no recourse but to expel the student.
Frankly, these are matters that properly belong with local school districts and local administrators. This kind of one-size-fits-all approach on sensitive questions like this is bound to result in decisions that simply aren't right — and aren't in the best interest of the community, the schools or the students involved.
And, too often, expulsion leaves students who need some kind of structured guidance — the kind that schools and districts can provide — to their own devices. No wonder for many of these students, it's a pathway that ends in prison.
Gelser gave credit for the success of HB 2192 to a variety of parties, from the Oregon School Boards Association to Youth, Rights and Justice, a Portland-based nonprofit law firm that specializes in juvenile cases.
It's simple common sense, the idea that this kind of intensely local decision is best made by local professionals who have a measure of discretion to do what's best in each particular case.
But common sense doesn't always carry the day at the Legislature. HB 2192 is a case where it did.