What Happens To Highland’s Expelled And Suspended Students


Lydia Hawes, Online Editor

Each year, roughly 100,000 students are expelled from public high schools, with reasons ranging from simply not following directions to as severe as being caught with a weapon on schoolgrounds.

But most of these students are forgotten from the school district. But they still are entitled to an education, which is protected under Utah law. While it is true some never graduate, the majority of students who are removed from a school end up finding another place to finish their education.

And most students are not technically expelled. If expelled, public schools can deny that student access. This is something that most schools do not want to do, believing a change of scenery might be the best action.

“Highland has never expelled any student,” principal Jeremy Chatterton said.

The Salt Lake City School District has only one recorded expulsion in the past 30 years, happening just two years ago, after a weapon threat was made by a student.

In most transfer cases, expulsion isn’t necessary. Instead, a student is just placed in another district where they’re more likely to find success. This is called a change of placement.

An ex-student of Highland was willing to speak on their process behind the placement process, giving light to a story few hear.

“I went to register [for the 2022-23 school year] and they said they sent my grandma an email that said I wasn’t accepted into Highland because of my ‘behavioral problems’,” the student said.

Expulsion is almost always a last resort, giving students plenty of warning and time to fix their habits before getting kicked out of the school. The punishment is reserved for only extreme issues. A change of placement occurs much before any serious consequence like expulsion happens.

For this student, though, he was left with a surprising email denying him admission to Highland.

“I wouldn’t even say I had any dangerous problems. I never lashed out on anyone, I never fought anyone, I never talked back to any teachers about anything,” the student said.

Students are most often expelled if they pose a danger to classmates or faculty while at school. Drugs, weapons, or physically violent outbursts often end up with a student switching schools.

Ultimately, the student felt it was his grades that pushed him out of the school, admitting that poor attendance and participation were big factors in his end at Highland.

“It was a mix of [things that contributed to my expulsion],” the student said. “I definitely had some problems of putting effort into it and making school work for me, but Highland definitely didn’t make it the best for me either.”

However, for the more serious problems a student may have at Highland, they look at a completely different process through expulsion.

Typically, the suspension or expulsion process follows a prescribed plan: the school is required to provide any excluded student five-days’ worth of work, and it’s illegal for these students to go out publicly during school hours. If the exclusion extends five-days, schools figure out a new full-time education for the student, whether it be online or at a new school. Students can be taken out of their school for up to 45 days, and if the expulsion is severe enough and surpasses the 45-day mark, the state is responsible for finding a new fit for the student.

Often, districts can sort out “safe schools” for students to attend if they pose a threat to students or themselves.

“If a student were to commit a crime, brings weapons to school, or if they have the intention of harming someone, if they’ve assaulted someone, or if they’ve made threats we deem credible, then we can push what’s called a ‘safe school hearing’,” Chatterton said.

At these hearings, the district presents the student’s case and arranges a possible solution for them.

“That might be something like sending them back to the school with a safety plan… Or it could be something where the student is placed at Horizonte,” Chatterton said. “[For special ed students], Horizonte doesn’t have a behavior unit classroom, so they could take some classes at Horizonte but the Bridges teacher would have to meet them there.”

Bridges and Horizonte are two educational options for students who require a safe school. These two instruction centers are more expertise on how to deal with students and their needs, especially if they have a pattern of being violent or aggressive.

Expulsion can damage a student’s future entirely, being on records for colleges and other schools to look at. Schools always have the chance to reject a student’s admission to their school, and school expulsion doesn’t reflect well on a student’s application.

“It’s just the wording they use for it [that sucks]. It’s on my file now that I have behavioral problems,” the student who had a change of placement said.

Despite the students feeling that he really didn’t have any problems besides completing work, he’s worried about this new label being assigned to him. “Behavioral problems” can mean lots of things, and he feels bad grades don’t justify being labeled that way.

Often, these negative labels that follow a student throughout their education cause more harm for the student than good.

Phys.org, for example, conducted a study and found that expelling or suspending students is counterproductive, and instead creates more problems than solutions.

Students following an expulsion are even more likely to engage in risky behaviors once being expelled, and their attitude towards education changes dramatically.

However, in some lucky cases, students are able to change for the better.

“Since I’ve switched schools, I’ve had straight Bs,” the student said. “It’s been amazing.”

Maybe it’s the wake-up call of being kicked from a school, different education layout, or just a fresh start, but the student has benefited from their change of placement tremendously.

He’s been able to make-up work from classes he’s previously failed, giving him a good chance of graduating high school.

“Whatever packet for whatever class you want, you can choose as many as you want. You can also get them online if you want to take them home with you, so it’s a little bit easier to get packets and do makeup work there for sure,” the student said.

When a student starts thinking expulsion is too drastic or too severe, note that that’s what’s meant to happen. With a punishment as consequential and serious as expulsion, students should feel pressured to listen during class, abstain from drugs, and keep weapons away from schoolgrounds. If consequences weren’t threatening, the education system would become a free-for-all, letting anyone do anything and disturb or harm any other student: public education would be a wreck.

Additionally, expulsion can wake a student up, making them take into account what’s important and get back on the right track.