Following a closed session that lasted nearly two hours Tuesday night, the Mathews County School Board approved the expulsion of one student and the long-term suspension of five others.
Parents, students and others, including attorneys, filled the Mathews High School media center awaiting the decision of the board on the school disciplinary matters. Superintendent of Schools Dr. David J. Holleran had no comment on the matter, declining to indicate the nature of the offenses or whether the incidents were separate or connected.
The school board approved the long-term suspensions by unanimous 5-0 votes, with the board splitting 4-1 on the expulsion. School board vice chairman Jen Little cast the lone vote against expelling the student. The five suspended students will be placed in the Middle Peninsula Regional Alternative School Program for the remainder of the current school year.
As originally reported in the public record section of the March 7 Gazette-Journal, an 18-year-old Mathews High School student was arrested on Feb. 26 on a felony charge of possessing a 20-gauge shotgun on school property. The weapon was found in the student’s vehicle during a search for illegal drugs on Feb. 26. No illegal drugs were discovered during the search conducted by the Mathews County Sheriff’s Office. Holleran did not indicate whether that student was one of those being disciplined.
During the public comment period prior to the closed session, county supervisor Neena Putt asked school board members to show some flexibility in handing out student suspensions. Putt indicated that she was there not as a supervisor, but as a private citizen. She said she was prompted to speak out after receiving a number of calls from concerned residents.
The role of the division, she said, is to provide for the education of county residents between the ages of 2 and 22 and "Mathews County Public Schools can’t do that job unless those students are in school."
While she said she respects that the school division has rules it must follow, she urged the board to show some leniency "where the punishment does not appear to fit the crime. I do not say that lightly."
As an example, she said, a student caught with possession of tobacco on school property is automatically suspended for three days. "That’s the regulation," Holleran replied, when Putt asked if this were the case.
Those are three days that a student is not in class, three days that a student is not receiving an education, Putt said. "Please revisit these policies," she urged the board.
Putt also took the opportunity to urge the school board to put an increased emphasis on teaching and promoting vocational education. She said she is concerned that the school division has cut back some of its vocational offerings in recent years.