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Students thrown into limbo

Toronto school principals are using loopholes to get rid of problemstudents and circumventing legislation designed to have the oppositeeffect, a Toronto Star investigation has found.

Toronto school principals are using loopholes to get rid of problem students and circumventing legislation designed to have the opposite effect, a Toronto Star investigation has found.

Just more than a year after Ontario ended “zero tolerance” in schools — a practice that saw tens of thousands of students thrown out yearly for misbehaviour — a Star investigation of the discipline law that replaced it found a litany of questionable practices.

Some suspensions, meant to be brief, are lasting months. Other students are being “excluded” informally, so they don’t show up on school board statistics. For those formally expelled — the most serious form of discipline — principals are often setting conditions so high for their return to regular school that the students are effectively being thrown out for the rest of their high school years.

“We are turning into an alternative program where we’re going to be warehousing students that can’t get their expulsion lifted,” says Tim Iacono, a teacher at a school for expelled students run by the Toronto District School Board.

Those expelled are being offered alternative programs like Iacono’s. But some students enter a suspension twilight zone.

One 16-year-old, for example, was officially suspended 19 days for smoking marijuana. Yet, for a number of reasons, including fears for his safety, he spent almost five months out of regular school before pressure from his lawyer and mother pushed the TDSB to find a suitable one for his return.

“They just pretend like the kid doesn’t exist,” said the youth’s lawyer, Selwyn Pieters.

No one expected these outcomes when the Liberal government changed the law on suspensions and expulsions last year. It was applauded for tempering a hard-line approach criticized as targeting students with learning disabilities, from low-income families and from certain racial groups.

 
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