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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fair
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Madison school board returns freshman honors student to East High, rejects superintendent’s expulsion recommendation
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Melissa Meyer: 'And now we start the work of transitioning her back after more than five weeks out.'
Credit:Judith Davidoff

A ninth-grade honors student will return to East High School Tuesday after the Madison school board rejected Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham's recommendation to expel her through the 2014-15 school year.

The school board votes on expulsions in private, but a district legal counsel informed the family of 14-year-old Maia of the board's decision shortly after the 5 p.m. closed session at the Doyle Administration Building concluded Monday night.

Melissa Meyer, Maia's mother, says her daughter will still have the expulsion on her record, but she will be able to return to school with "time served." Meyer says Maia, who had a sterling behavior record in school before the incident for which she was expelled, can get the expulsion expunged from her record after her junior year.

Meyer says she feels grateful to all the people who wrote letters in support and reached out to the family. "And now we start the work of transitioning her back after more than five weeks out."

Isthmus first reported on Maia's expulsion case on March 26, one day after an independent hearing examiner ordered her expelled from East High. The hearing examiner followed the recommendation of Cheatham, who said that Maia should be expelled through the 2014-15 school year, with readmission possible this summer under various conditions. The school board has the final say on expulsion recommendations.

The school board voted on Maia's case -- and another student's expulsion case -- before meeting to vote on a revised conduct policy for elementary and middle/high school students in the district.

The district's current "zero tolerance" policy relies on suspensions and expulsions, while the new proposal acknowledges that children learn by "pushing and testing limits" and by "getting feedback about their behavioral choices."

Maia was initially suspended for five days under Section 402a of the school district's Student Conduct and Discipline Plan; she was suspended for another 10 days once East High vice-principal Mikki Smith recommended she be expelled. She returned to school a week ago for fewer than two days before she was sent home again when Alicia Connolly-Lohr, the independent hearing officer, issued her decision. In all, Maia has been out of school for more than five weeks.

Cheatham told Isthmus she thought the school board would keep the district's proposed new guidelines in mind when voting on whether to expel Maia. And she followed up on that thought Friday, with a memo to board members recommending that they not enforce the current code of conduct for students with respect to expulsions for the remainder of this year.

"As the board prepares to make a value statement about how we define our behavior system in this district, I do not believe that we should continue to enforce our current code of conduct as it relates to expulsions, for the remainder of the school year -- specifically behaviors that, under our new plan, would not result in an automatic recommendation for expulsion," wrote Cheatham.

But Cheatham said it was "past the point" of her being able to change her recommendation.

Maia admitted that she brought two water bottles to school on Feb. 20 with a few ounces of alcohol in each. She gave one bottle to a friend. Maia was taken out of class and brought to the principal's office, where she acknowledged she had alcohol in her backpack. Both Maia and her friend blew zero when administered breathalyzer tests by Madison police.

On Monday afternoon, before the school board vote, board member Dean Loumos -- who is part of the ad-hoc committee that has been drafting the district's new behavior code -- was confident the board would vote against expulsion for Maia.

"She's going back to school Tuesday," Loumos predicted. "Hell yeah."

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