Eagle Point winds up on 'watch list'

Two Eagle Point schools are among 11 in Oregon placed on a safety "watch list" Wednesday based on the number of violence-related student expulsions during the 2007-08 school year.

Eagle Point High School and Eagle Point Middle School were included on the list because they exceeded the number of allowable student expulsions for violent behavior or bringing weapons to school. Schools are allowed one expulsion for every 100 students or five expulsions for schools with fewer than 500 students.

Eagle Point High School had 12 expulsions among 1,186 students. The middle school had six expulsions among 501 students.

Four more of the 11 schools on the list are in Southern Oregon, including three in Josephine County (Fleming Middle School, Lorna Byrne Middle School and Illinois Valley High School) and Klamath County's Mazama High School.

Having six schools in rural Southern Oregon on the list is an anomaly, said Scott Hall, safe and drug-free schools specialist for the Oregon Department of Education.

"Normally in the past we haven't gotten that many from Southern Oregon," Hall said. He said schools often make the list for a year and then clear up their problems.

Schools are required to report safety-related expulsions under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. A school that makes the safety watch list three consecutive years is deemed "persistently dangerous," and students may transfer to another school. The school district has to pick up the transportation costs.

Allen Barber, Eagle Point High principal, said the law may encourage some schools to under-report or fail to report violence-related expulsions. He offered no examples, but he said he is committed to "actually reporting every single incident that happens on our campus."

"We're going to be adamant about protecting this school," he said.

Barber said 11 of the 12 expulsions involved knives that students forgot they had and brought to school in backpacks or on their persons. He said there were no student injuries as a result of the expulsions.

Data from the state department of education indicated just seven of the Eagle Point expulsions were weapon-related, while the others involved fighting, vandalism or intimidation and threats. Barber said he believed his data was accurate.

Eagle Point Middle School Principal Dan Johnson was out of town Wednesday.

Jackson County's four other large high schools reported relatively few expulsions related to violent behavior. Ashland High School (1,066 students) and Crater (1,530 students) had no weapon-related expulsions, according to education department data. North Medford (1,890 students) had six expulsions, all weapon-related; and South Medford (1,920) had six, four of them weapon-related.

Hall, the state education official, said schools on the watch list have to develop an improvement plan to reduce violence-related expulsions.

Critics of the process note each state sets its own criteria for what constitutes a "persistently dangerous" school, and some states set unrealistic standards to avoid placing negative labels on their schools. Only one Oregon school, McKay High School in the Salem-Keizer School District, is "persistently dangerous." McKay made the watch list for the fourth year in 2007-08.

No Jackson County schools were on the safety list for the 2006-07 school year, but Josephine County's Hidden Valley High School did make the list.

Eagle Point High was on the list for 2005-06, along with Medford Opportunity High School, but both were removed from the list last year. Eagle Point school administrators said in October 2007 they enhanced their safety measures by adding a police officer in the school, doubling camera surveillance and adding disciplinarians at the district's middle schools.

Two Josephine County middle schools, Fleming and Lincoln Savage, were on the list for the 2004-05 school year.

Knives, including pocket knives, that have blades longer than 2 1/2 inches (about the length of a man's little finger) are considered weapons under the state rules. Student expulsions for crimes such as assault, arson, robbery, coercion and drug delivery or manufacture also are counted for the safety watch list.

Barber said school administrators take into account the difference between knives that are part of multipurpose pocket tools and other knives, and no one was expelled solely for inadvertently bringing a pocket knife to school.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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