LEWISTON — When students misbehave, they’re sent to the principal’s office.

When they misbehave to the point that they’re expelled, they are sent to the superintendent’s office.

A program launched in September houses expelled students in Superintendent Bill Webster’s office building, the Dingley Building. It’s called the Dingley School.

Of Lewiston’s 5,000-plus public school students, 12 are expelled. Of those, 10 regularly attend the Dingley School, which costs the School Department $75,000 a year to run. The students are middle- and high-school-aged and include as many girls as boys; 60 percent are white, 40 percent black.

While the number of expelled students is small, their behavior can have a big effect on schools, Webster said.

“The other day a student was going down the hall, swearing at the teacher,” Webster said. “There were a couple of hundred other students in the school who heard that. Those types of disruptions impact the education for everybody.”

The Dingley School so far has worked well, Webster said. “We’re going to double the size of the program (next month).” Since September, two expelled Dingley School students have re-entered mainstream classes, and two more may re-enter soon, Webster said. He said he wasn’t aware of another program of this type.

Without the intervention, he suspects most would not graduate from high school, and a few could be headed for prison.

“Just because we expel a student doesn’t mean we’re expelling the responsibility that goes with educating the student,” Webster said. “They need a different pathway.”

That pathway includes one-on-one tutoring, mandatory counseling and community service. “They have to work in this program,” the superintendent said.

For example, one Dingley School student was expelled for assault and distributing drugs. She’s undergoing drug and alcohol counseling, plus counseling for behavior and anger management, and has performed community service. She also has been tested for drugs to ensure she is not using.

Expelled students are not allowed on school grounds, Assistant Superintendent Tom Jarvis said. If they show up, they’re subject to arrest.

Expulsion is more serious than suspension and can be issued for an entire year.

To get expelled, a student’s behavior has to be pretty bad, said Ansley Newton, the bullying and harassment prevention coordinator for the Maine Department of Education. Grounds for expulsion include serious assault, possession of a weapon, bomb threats, selling drugs and a consistent pattern of serious misbehavior.

Schools statewide saw 99 expulsions from a total of 103,654 public students in grades 6-12 in 2009-10, according to data from the Maine Department of Education.

A new state law that took effect Sept. 1 spells out rules schools are to follow, Newton said. Before, the state had no specific rules for expulsions. “We were seeing some schools expelling kids who would never come back,” he said.

State law says students must attend school, except when suspended or expelled. Maine law allows a school to expel a student for up to 180 days, and a school can allow re-entry when it has evidence that the student’s behavior has improved, Newton said.

When a student is expelled, he or she has a hearing before the school board, similar to a court hearing. An expelled student cannot return to school until the board approves it in a second hearing. School districts are expected to offer tutoring for expelled students, Newton said.

Students who get involved in serious assaults or drugs often come from challenging homes, have emotional issues and parents who don’t force them to get the help they need, such as counseling, Webster said.

Those students “need a wake-up call that school is a privilege, an opportunity,” he said. “They need to realize expulsion is a real possibility.”

While many districts provide tutoring for expelled students, Webster wasn’t satisfied with that. Too many, he said, were falling through the cracks.

“We were not being successful,” he said. “We’d have students not show up for tutoring, tutors who were sick or miscommunications. The student would show up and no one would be there.”

Centralizing the program in his office building has created a consistent, Monday-through-Friday program he can monitor, Webster said.

“It’s giving us much better awareness of what’s happening or not happening,” he said. “It’s nice. I can stick my head in. I know the students by name.”

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Inside Dingley School: Using ‘voice level 0 or 1’

LEWISTON — The Dingley School, the city’s new program for expelled students, is providing one-on-one tutoring using private Sylvan Learning Center teachers.

The program will expand its hours this month from morning to morning and afternoon, and will include public school teachers, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

Inside the Dingley School classroom recently, Sylvan teacher Angela Delorme worked with a student, reading the newspaper. The two discussed stories about President Barack Obama’s inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day events.

“We talk about the day we had off, Martin Luther King, all the great things that happened from the holiday and inauguration,” Delorme said. “It’s good for students to know about their community and their government.”

Dingley School rules, posted on the wall, include a “voice level chart.” Voice Level 0 is no talking; Voice Level 1 is a whisper. “They realize this is an office building,” said Assistant Superintendent Tom Jarvis, who heads the program.

Students must sit in assigned tables and chairs, “with four legs on the floor.” That means no rocking, Jarvis said.

They must complete all assigned work, read silently, and when finished with their assignments, put their pencils down quietly.

Each morning, students sit in the lobby until invited into the classroom. They eat breakfast, clean up, then work on reading or math from 9:15 to 11:45. They’re dismissed at noon.

The student Delorme was working with said he likes attending the Dingley School.

“It’s going pretty well,” he said, adding that he might be able to go back to his school soon. Dingley School “is helping me stay up to date with my learning so when I go back, I’ll be the same as the other kids.”

— Bonnie Washuk

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