Hundreds forced out of schools

By Nathan Crombie, Teuila Fuatai

Wairarapa schools have stood down, suspended or permanently excluded misbehaving pupils 274 times this year, Education Ministry figures reveal.

About 14 per cent of cases were drugs-related and one Wairarapa pupil was permanently excluded from their school because of drugs this year.

The figures were released to the Wairarapa Times-Age under the Official Information Act and show the number of students disciplined for drug offences is declining in the region.

Kuranui College principal Geoff Shepherd warned that students who used drugs jeopardised their learning and involvement in the community.

"If we do find drugs in our school - and it is rare - we would use serious discipline and that usually means stand down," he said.

Chanel College principal Grant Miles said the number of students stood down or suspended at the school this year had fallen from a "fairly low number" last year.

In the single drug-related case this year the student underwent counselling and had been since reinstated.

Makoura College principal Tom Hullena said the school had a single suspension and 14 stand-downs this year, a number about average for the past three years.

Stand-downs were a last resort and the school had restorative practices to help students understand what they had done wrong.

"Obviously we want kids to be at school. We don't want to be suspending them or standing them down," he said. "Sometimes we need to have a bottom line and the stand-down is it."

He said there were a variety of reasons for the disciplinary actions taken this year.

"There's certainly things that we don't allow in schools and if there's a risk or safety issue then students will go home until such time as that's no longer an issue."

Rathkeale College principal Willy Kersten said there had been no more than three suspensions at the school this year and two drug-related cases that came to his attention.

He said a student had brought cannabis to school in one case and another had drug-related problems that were based outside the school.

He said the number of suspensions and stand-downs were down on previous years. "It's been a good year - the whole tone of the place and students meeting expectations".

Wairarapa College principal Mike Schwass said there were fewer suspensions at the school this year than last and drug-related cases were declining in number. "It's always on your mind. You want to to keep drugs out of the school because they don't belong here."

Mr Schwass said there were a number of in-school consequences that could be brought to bear for misbehaving students that included counselling.

Nationally, misbehaving pupils were stood down, suspended or excluded more than 17,500 times between January 1 and October 16 this year.

Nearly 2000 disciplinary cases involved drugs. Around 10 per cent resulted in pupils' permanent dismissal from school.

Secondary Principals Association president Patrick Walsh said numbers had fallen in recent years but drugs remained a serious issue for schools.

Cannabis was the most common drug, but more students were using synthetic cannabis products or "party pills", he said. Case numbers peaked two years ago. But Mr Walsh warned that drug problems in schools had not diminished.

"It's just being masked because schools are dealing with it in different ways."

More schools were using restorative justice before stand-downs or suspensions were enforced and students might undertake drug counselling, apologise to the school and their peers or take on community work, Mr Walsh said.

Police may also become involved in student drug cases, with parents called into family group conferences.

The Education Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, would make it illegal for schools to drug-test students. Random drug searches involving sniffer dogs would also be outlawed.

The bill has been widely panned by teachers and principals.


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