Judge denies Smyrna School District appeal on expulsion

 

SMYRNA — Affirming earlier findings of an unwarranted student expulsion last year, a judge denied a Smyrna Board of Education appeal earlier this week.

On Tuesday in Superior Court, Judge Andrea L. Rocanelli agreed with the Delaware Board of Education’s finding that “substantial evidence did not exist to support the Smyrna School Board’s decision to expel (the student identified only by initials) for an entire academic year.

“Moreover, the DE Board of Ed was correct that the Smyrna School Board acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner and failed to comply with the due process requirements set forth by federal and state law.”

An attempt to reach the Smyrna School Board of Education Thursday morning was not immediately successful.

The 11-page opinion stemmed from a physical altercation between two students in a Smyrna High classroom on Sept. 19, 2017. A 16-year-old student was charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and Family Court dismissed the counts shortly afterward.

A disciplinary hearing was held on Oct. 12, 2017 involving the student, his foster care mother and case worker, the school district’s assistant superintendent and Smyrna High assistant principal, along with a hearing officer. The court’s opinion indicated that a school resource officer who responded to the altercation also attended.

Smyrna High’s principal recommended expulsion and while the foster mother acknowledged that some form of consequences were needed, she maintained that expulsion was too harsh, according to the opinion. She pointed to the student’s supposedly good grades, lack of other school issues, his youth and brain development when pleading for a second chance, according to documents. The student also reportedly apologized.

In the hearing officer’s report the next day recommending expulsion for violations of the Student Code of Conduct involving “fighting, behaving in a disorderly manner, and resisting arrest.”

At a Smyrna School Board meeting on Oct. 23, 2017, the foster mother was told of a 180-day expulsion “with educational services to be determined by the (Individualized Education Program) team.”

The Superior Court judge viewed the meeting as just a presentation of the hearing officer’s findings, and no standard of review was discussed by Smyrna’s board.

The student’s mother appealed the decision to the Delaware Board of Education, which vacated the expulsion order. The lack of cross examination of witnesses by the student was cited, which supposedly violated minimum due process standards, according to the decision.

The lengthy suspension was “unnecessarily harsh” and “contrary to the School District’s own policies …” the Delaware Board of Education and judge agreed.

The appeal was submitted to the court on Sept. 14.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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