Snyder: Riverton a 'marquee district' for expulsion policy

Sep 15, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Five years after Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton implemented a program to reduce expulsions, superintendent Terry Snyder said the district has become a "marquee" for discipline.

Before the policy was implemented in 2012, the district had recorded an average of 24 expulsions per year over the previous three years.

Since 2012, however, the district has averaged about five expulsions a year, coupled with about nine stipulated agreements.

'Stipulated agreements'

Through the program, when students are recommended for expulsion, "stipulated agreements" are now sometimes offered as an alternative.

The agreements, which mandate certain actions students must take to avoid expulsion, are formulated by a team of school staff, the superintendent, involved students, and their parents or guardians. The resulting agreements could involve homebound tutoring, maintaining a minimum grade-point average, attendance at the District 25 Day Reporting Center, counseling, or a number of other stipulations the team deems appropriate.

Snyder said the stipulated agreements are important in giving students guidance to avoid the behavior that put them at risk of expulsion in the first place.

"We need to do that to help that student not have that behavior in the future," he said. "If we don't find a way to turn them around, they're going to do it again."

Racial bias?

Despite claims to the contrary by upset parents, school officials say there's no evidence of racial bias when deciding whether a student is offered a stipulated agreement.

"People try to torch us, left and right," said attorney Joel Vincent, who represents the school district.

In the past four years, 52 students in the district have been at risk of expulsion. Of that total, 40 percent have been American Indian - a disproportionately high number considering fewer than 20 percent of the student body was native in 2016-2017.

However, American Indian students actually have been offered stipulated agreements at a slightly higher rate - 71 percent - when compared to their white counterparts, 68 percent of whom have been offered stipulated agreements.

Vincent said equity in those statistics has been a concern for him because of notorious racial disparities across the county concerning expulsion rates.

"Schools sometimes didn't recognize that they didn't have employees who were aware they needed to apply thing evenly, across the board," he said.

A 2014 report by the Department of Education found that American Indian students are expelled at rates three times higher than their white peers.

In contrast, Vincent said he's witnessed Riverton's school board being "highly competent" in its sensitivity of potential disparities.

Snyder said the local data shows that the school board cares only about the nature of students' misconduct - not their race or socioeconomic status - when making decisions about expulsions.

"We couldn't care less about the other factors," he said. "I believe the numbers represent that."

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