We have a juvenile justice system for a reason: As a society, we don’t believe that adolescents always have the capacity to make good choices, so when a young person commits what would be a crime if it was committed by an adult, the justice system is focused on rehabilitation, not punishment.

The same should be true in an educational setting, and a bill now before the Legislature sponsored by Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, puts those principles firmly in place.

L.D. 1503 deals with what happens to students who are expelled, the ultimate penalty used in only the most serious situations.

A student who deals drugs or commits acts of violence should be removed from a school setting, but that should not be the end of the school district’s responsibility to someone who is still a child.

Leaving school without a diploma can have lifelong consequences. Permanently expelling an adolescent from school would be the same as sending a juvenile offender into an adult prison to serve a life sentence. That may be called for in certain extreme circumstances, but, in most cases, the state should consider these students to be young people who are capable of growth.

The measure would require a school district to create a re-entry plan for students at the time of their expulsion. Those students and their parents should be presented with a series of steps that would lead to a re-entry to the classroom, and they should be given the support needed to follow those steps.

These are important practices that will help lower Maine’s dropout rate. As those who have studied the problem point out, students rarely decide to permanently drop out; they just stop showing up.

School districts have a responsibility to protect the safety of the students who show up and work hard, but they also have a duty to protect the opportunity for students to get an education, and that involves giving second, third and fourth chances, if that’s what it takes.

This bill would put into law what the best school districts do already. It would not ensure that every expelled student turns his life around, but it would give some the chance they need to get an education, and it should be made law.

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