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Discipline in Manchester schools questioned

MANCHESTER — School board members are raising concerns that administrators are being too tolerant of students who engage in serious misconduct, including bringing weapons to school and assaulting their peers.

From November through the end of March, students on 15 occasions have been referred to the superintendent’s office for possessing drugs, knives, Tasers and a BB gun, among other infractions. Only two of those cases were referred to the school board’s Student Conduct Committee, which is responsible for expelling students and setting the terms for their readmission.

That has angered the conduct committee’s longtime chairman, Ward 2 board member Deb Gagnon Langton. At Monday’s school board meeting, Mayor Ted Gatsas and other school board members joined in expressing alarm about the possibility the student conduct code revised in 2010 is being laxly enforced.

“I’ve expressed my position that it’s zero tolerance,” Gatsas said. “Any student bringing a weapon to school needs to be reported.”

Superintendent Debra Livingston intends to meet with Langton and other members of the conduct committee to discuss the issue. In an interview Wednesday, Livingston said that she had used the discretion afforded her under the district’s policy in deciding which cases to refer for expulsion. “We use common sense when these things happen, and every story is different,” she said.

The conduct policy states that a student “may” be expelled for “possession of a pellet or BB gun, rifle, or paint ball gun,” but does not require an automatic referral for expulsion. The policy also requires principals to report “all suspected illegal activities” to the police and the superintendent’s office.

Langton said she has yet to receive a response to a list of questions sent to the administration six weeks ago asking why seemingly serious violations weren’t referred to the panel.

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