BOISE • At what point do you give up on troubled kids?
Last week, Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, introduced a bill that would force school boards to deny enrollment to or expel students who have been convicted of felonies or violent misdemeanors, or who have spent a year or more in prison.
Heider said he was approached by a school district to carry the legislation, “but I was happy to carry it, and I still am because I feel very strongly about this,” he said.
Heider’s concern, he said, is students who have spent lengthy amounts of time in the corrections system learn about gangs and drugs.
When introducing the bill in committee, Heider spoke of two Magic Valley students who had returned to school from prison and began trafficking drugs. They also impregnated two female students, he said.
Lauri Heward is principal of Cassia High School in Burley, her district’s alternative high school. She said that in her 15 years at the school, she has worked with students who would be affected by the law.
Heward pointed out that when students come to the school from the corrections system, the school district evaluates their behavior and history on a case-by-case basis.
“The safety of our students is a priority,” Heward said, and the school wouldn’t endanger the student body by enrolling someone who is violent.
“If that door was shut, then what would we do? What would they do?”Heward said.
“I just feel they need to have faith in our school board and our principals and our counselors,”she added.
Monty Prow of the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections said the department is researching Heider’s proposal and doesn’t currently have an official position on the bill. But, he said, education is a priority for the department.
In Idaho, 94 percent of juvenile cases are handled on a county level, Prow explained. Most of those are for minor offenses, like shoplifting, and never escalate to the juvenile corrections level.
For those with more serious offenses — Prow gave the examples of arson and stealing a car — the child or teen is referred to juvenile corrections. During the period of custody, the juvenile attends school the entire time, Prow said. The department also works with the students’ school districts of origin to transfer credits, and remains in contact with those districts to transfer credits they earned in custody so the student can graduate, if they choose. Juveniles can also earn high school degrees or GEDs while in custody, and some begin to earn college credits.
The point, Prow said, is to ready those in custody for a successful return to life in society.
“That’s how seriously we take it,”Prow said. “What we know intuitively is education goes a long way with saving troubled kids.”
Heider said he’s less concerned about saving troubled kids than he is with protecting the other students in schools.
“I know that sounds harsh,”he said. But, he added, “I’d rather protect the thousand in every school than the one that comes out of prison.”