Reported by Lisa Klein | bio | email | twitter
This was the scene at Onalaska High School in December after a 15-year-old freshman student brought a 9 millimeter handgun and ammunition to school.
"It was a poor choice on the part of the student," said John Burnett, Onalaska School District Superintendent. "It wasn't a student who brought a weapon to school with the thought of harming anybody. It fell more in the category of show and tell."
The result of the student's decision to bring the weapon to school was expulsion, but not because the Onalaska School District has a zero tolerance policy.
"We have never been a zero tolerance school district for the very simple reason that we don't deal with a lot of these," said Burnett. "But everyone that we've dealt with has unique circumstances, unique situations in terms of what happened."
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has recently started encouraging districts to treat problem behavior exactly how the Onalaska School District does... on a case-by-case basis. That's because expulsion rates in the state of Wisconsin were skyrocketing just three years ago.
Take a look at these numbers. In 1992-1993, approximately 400 students were expelled statewide. In 2007-2008, 1,400 students were expelled from Wisconsin Public School districts. That is a 350% increase.
The philosophy of zero tolerance for student behavior had lead to the large increase in expulsions. As a result of a number of studies that have proven this philosophy ineffective, many school districts and school boards have changed their policies on discipline. As a result, across the nation districts are implementing something called PBIS.
"PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Intervention Support," said Jac Lyga, Irving Pertzsch Elementary School principal. "So, it's a program that kind of encompasses talking about behavior with children and staff and parents and kind of just teaching about behavior."
The Onalaska School District started implementing the program this year at the middle school and all three elementary schools including Irving Pertzsch.
"Some of us went to a training to learn about the PBIS frame work and what that meant," said Lyga. "And then we learned a lot of structures you could do. They gave you some options and then you individualized it to your school."
At Irving Pertzsch, they kicked off the school year by introducing students to a set of rules for every area of the school, from the hallway to the lunchroom, so that everyone knows the expectations.
"The hope is that we're going to minimize disruptions in the classroom as much as possible to maximize the learning that the students are going to get," said Lyga. "More time learning if there's less time with any kind of behavioral disruption."
And if all students are learning the hope is that all students will graduate.