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Expulsion not an option in all bomb threats

School Board members are advised by their attorney that federal law says that some students may not be expelled.

By MELANIE AVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


TAMPA -- Not all bomb threats against schools are created equal, nor the children who make them, Hillsborough County School Board members are learning.

Despite board members' wishes to get tough on any child who threatens to blow up a school, their attorney told them Tuesday that federal law prohibits the expulsion of students with mental and emotional disabilities.

"You cannot discontinue services to handicapped children," attorney Crosby Few told the seven-member School Board during a meeting held specifically to address the discipline of disabled students involved in bomb threats.

"I don't like it, but what are we going to do?" said board member Glenn Barrington.

Eight of the 39 teens arrested for making bomb threats are special education students.

Students with disabilities such as attention deficit disorder and emotional handicaps receive extra protection under federal law, Few said.

On Tuesday, the number of school bomb threats -- already a record -- jumped to 103 for the school year after a 15-year-old student at James Alternative School was arrested on a felony charge of calling in a threat from his aunt's home, police said. He also could be expelled from school for up to two years.

The School Board is wrestling with a new zero-tolerance policy aimed at curbing the number of bomb threats, which soared about the time state standardized testing began this spring.

School bomb threats have ranged from anonymous calls to angry outbursts from students to their teachers. Perhaps the most unusual involved two Sickles High students who were overheard by a neighbor's police scanner as they discussed school bombings on their cordless phones. They deny they were threatening to bomb the school.

Disappointed that students can receive different punishment for the same offense, school officials said they want to send an unambiguous message to students that "We are serious," said board member Carol Kurdell.

But some suggested not all cases are the same. There's a difference between a student who calls in a threat and one who hears a threat being made, though there "still needs to be a consequence," said board member Candy Olson.

Hillsborough school officials have typically not expelled students, sending them instead to alternative schools. Superintendent Earl Lennard announced Feb. 28 that children who make bomb threats can be kicked out of school for two years.

This year, 13 students have been expelled for bomb threats and three have been placed in alternative schools or home instruction programs. The remaining 23 are either awaiting a hearing or have appealed their punishment to the School Board.

Board members said disabled students who make bomb threats will either be placed in home-based instruction or special programs.

- Melanie Ave covers education and can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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