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EXPELLED KIDS OFTEN RESORT TO DOING ZILCH

Jason Albertson has gotten really good at Mortal Kombat.

The 15-year-old has played the game many times on his Super Nintendo at home since Feb. 13, when he was expelled from O'Leary Junior High School for bringing a gun to a basketball game a week before.With at least three other students, Albertson passed the gun around at the game. Someone reported them, and he confessed a week later.

The expulsion has left his parents wondering what to do with him. Under state law, all students expelled from school have to get some education if they are under 16. But the statute is unclear about whether the schools or the courts are responsible for compliance.

"No one will give you specific answers, or maybe no one can get specific answers," said Paul Frick, director of the Snake River Detention Center. "If the family isn't very persistent, that kid isn't in school."

Frick said he thought the school district was supposed to arrange for classes. But Ken Olson, assistant superintendent of the Twin Falls School District, said that is not the case.

"When a student has been expelled, then he falls under the purview of the court system. He's not necessarily entitled to come back to our district," Olson said. "The board may or may not let him back in."

The Twin Falls district expels about 50 students a year. Seven students have been expelled so far this year for carrying weapons on school property.

After each expulsion the district informs probation officers through a letter. Some students take classes, but others do not.

"Interestingly enough, most of them sit in front of the TV and do absolutely zilch," said JoAnn Loveland, a junior high school resource officer. "Most of them come from families where if they want to eat, parents have to work, so there's no supervision of their activities during the day. If they're assigned tasks, no one is there to enforce it."

Steve Thomas, Albertson's stepfather, is trying to organize a group to help youths in trouble find jobs through the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. But helping students after they get expelled often is too late, Thomas said.

"When these kids are getting D's and getting in trouble, that's when we want them grabbed," he said. "These should be the funnest years for (Jason), with high school and dances and dating, but he's ruined it for himself."

Thomas said he agrees with the school's zero-tolerance policy toward weapons. But it should not leave students and families in the lurch, he said.

Albertson said he recently got a job at a fast-food restaurant to pay for correspondence courses and plans to attend summer school with hopes of returning to high school in the fall.

Students also can participate in a day treatment program funded by the school district, the Department of Health and Welfare, the Juvenile Justice Commission and the Children's Mental Health Fund.

Olson said working and taking classes often helps a student's chances of being readmitted to the district. But Loveland said students who do neither often are written off.

"The numbers are too great," she said. "If they set themselves up to fail, they will succeed in that."