Two seventh-graders in the York City School District were expelled by the school board in April because of separate assault incidents.
While expulsions happen all the time in city schools, these expulsions of middle-schoolers came in the same month the district has been trying to relieve parents' anxiety over a proposal to merge the middle schools with its elementary schools.
One of the primary parental concerns about York City's K-8 model idea is putting older students in with younger ones.
Several parents at the most recent school board meeting said they want no part of putting their kindergartner or first-grader in with middle-schoolers because of bullying or bad behavior concerns.
In the recent cases, a seventh-grader was expelled for 45 days effective April 4 after an assault on a school
employee, according to district documents.
In the other case, a seventh-grader was expelled for the remainder of the school year for sexual assault on school district grounds.
District plan: Superintendent Deborah Wortham and her staff have tried to alleviate those concerns by showing families how the grades would be separated in the buildings.
York City is proposing to close Hannah Penn and Edgar Fahs Smith middle schools and move those fifth- to eighth-graders into their neighborhood elementary schools to create a K-8 model, saving money, staff and resources.
And Wortham believes a few expulsions don't signify a larger problem with school safety.
She said she can look parents straight in the eye and say she believes the K-8 model can safely work because as a whole, district disciplinary incidents are going down dramatically.
Incidents down: An incident in the district can be classified as any measure of discipline, from expulsions to suspensions to a timeout to calling a parent about a child's behavior.
Looking back two years ago, Hannah Penn Middle School had 5,283 incidents in the 2009-10 school year, but that number is down to 1,513 as of February 2012, the most recent data point for this school year.
Edgar Fahs Smith is down from 2,956 two years ago to 594 as of February, Wortham said.
"It's in the past," she said.
Parents should realize how the district is transforming, she said.
"I believe people are focused on past performance. Look at the data we are dealing with now," she said.
District-wide numbers: All the elementary schools have lower incident totals compared to two years ago, she said.
And overall, the incidents are down: In the 2009-10 school year, there were 19,191 incidents, then 16,374 last school year. As of February, the number stands at 5,471.
"Look at the overall culture and the positive change," Wortham said.
Zero tolerance: The identities of the expelled students and the specifics are kept private, in accordance with district policy. York City police officials said charges were not filed in either case, but the district is allowed to mete out punishment as it sees fit.
Wortham said she is not allowed to comment on what happened in the incidents, but that the district takes safety very seriously.
"We have zero tolerance in this district in disciplinary measures," she said.
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ydblogwork