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Student agreed to be expelled
Would have lost classes otherwise
Lawyer critical of Ontario policy

Toronto Star, LOUISE BROWN, EDUCATION REPORTER, January 7, 2004

In what seems like an academic Catch-22, a Toronto teen accused of assault last year agreed to be expelled so she could continue her studies rather than fight the expulsion but lose access to classes, her lawyer says.

The girl, whose charges were thrown out of court last month because of "sloppy" police work, spent the last four months of Grade 10 and the first four months of Grade 11 in a small, strict program for expelled students away from her neighbourhood school for no reason, lawyer Paula Rochman said.

Add to that the two harrowing weeks the girl spent in jail awaiting bail, and the whole experience has changed the young woman's life, she said in an interview yesterday.

"I couldn't believe it — she had to agree to being expelled in order to continue her studies, which she really wants to do and go on to university," said Rochman, who describes the teen as a "wonderful student" who had not been in trouble before being involved in a brawl outside Oakwood Collegiate Institute last February in which two students were injured.

In a ruling Dec. 22, Madam Justice Sheila Ray of the Ontario Court of Justice stayed aggravated assault and weapons charges against the student, who is now 17, citing "misleading" and "embellished" accounts by the police officer investigating the incident.

Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino has ordered an investigation into the case, and the Toronto District School Board is expected to announce today whether the student will be readmitted to a regular public school to finish her schooling and have the expulsion wiped from her school record.

Under Ontario's Safe Schools Act, students who have been expelled from public school may carry on studying at a special "strict-discipline" school paid for by Queen's Park in the hopes of returning to the regular system. If they oppose the expulsion, however, their academic status is placed in limbo and they're not eligible for the special program.

Rochman's client passed Grade 10 last year in the program, called the Strict Discipline Demonstration Project, which she described as essentially a supervised correspondence course above a downtown restaurant.

The program, in its third year as a province-run pilot project, is meant to help expelled students avoid a one-way ticket to a dead end, said Bruce Cameron, central co-ordinating principal of school services for the Toronto public board.

Cameron would not comment on this case but said "if there was a clear sense there had been a miscarriage along the line, there would certainly be a willingness to take measures to try and deal with that."