With 46 suspensions on the books so far this school year, some parents are concerned about standards for student discipline at the regional high school.

School administrators and the Island Parents Advisory Council (IPAC) on Special Education met to discuss the school’s disciplinary approach Thursday night.

What followed was a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion that touched on protocols for disciplining students with special needs, the school’s response to the teen vaping epidemic, and the role the Oak Bluffs police school resource officer (SRO) Jillian Sedlier plays at the school.

Parent Lara O’Brien read a letter outlining concerns. The letter said changes in leadership at the high school in 2016 and the revised code of conduct that followed resulted in a system that focuses on consequences instead of relationships.

“This action results in mental health deterioration for some, stressed families who are alienated from the school, and a divided and frustrated community. We hear it at the supermarkets, the doctor’s office, and the dinner tables across the Island. Suspension.” Ms. O’Brien said in part.

High school student affairs administrator Dhakir Warren shared suspension data for the school year so far. The 46 suspensions involved 38 students. (In the 2017-2018 school year, 32 students were suspended, according to department of elementary and secondary education data.) Among those 38 students, half are on individualized education programs (IEPs), meaning they have specific identified learning needs. Schoolwide, 20 per cent of students are on IEPs.

Parents noted the disproportionate number of students with special needs being suspended. High school special education director Hope MacLeod acknowledged the issue, and said the numbers are similar statewide.

“That is the trend across the whole state of Massachusetts. It’s a significant — it’s something we need to talk about, but it’s not out of whack from, we compared it to Falmouth and we compared it to a similar school system that [the state] ranked with us,” she said.

Some parents said they want to be sure an understanding and training in special education is part of the discipline process at the high school.

“I think there’s a disconnect . . . with the behavior and the disability,” said Lori Scanlon. “There’s a disconnect between the disciplinary umbrella of the school and the special [education] department.”

Mr. Warren said 76 per cent of this year’s suspensions are infractions related to vaping such as possession of paraphernalia or a controlled substance. Educators and health officials around the country are struggling to keep up with the youth e-cigarette trend, which took hold on the Island two years ago.

Mr. Warren said state law dictates how the school responds to infractions involving nicotine and vaping devices. It is illegal to vape under the age of 21 in Massachusetts and prohibited to bring devices to school. According to the code of conduct, use of nicotine on campus leads to a minimum three-day suspension on the first offense.

“There are infractions that, mandated by state law, are very clear,” Mr. Warren said. “The handbook clearly outlines what the consequences are.”

Mr. Warren said his office works to connect students with resources to stop vaping and to arrange community service opportunities during suspensions.

The letter from Ms. O’Brien also addressed vaping.

“Vaping is a recognized epidemic now. Schools and parents are scrambling with addiction, and in every single article that recognizes the problem, the conclusion is that suspensions do not work,” she said.

IPAC leaders also raised questions about the school resource officer’s role, particularly what kind of disciplinary information the police officer can access.

Mr. Warren said the school does not share disciplinary data with police. Superintendent of schools Dr. Matthew D’Andrea is in the process of drafting new memorandums of understanding with police departments and schools on the Island, as required by the state.

School adjustment counselor Matthew Malowski noted the resources the high school does provide as a comprehensive high school. They include two full time adjustment counselors, a large guidance department, coordination with recovery coaches for addiction, additional counseling, relationship support, and an alternative education program.

“This is all done in this building,” he said.

This story has been corrected from an earlier version which misattributed the letter from Laura O'Brien. The letter was not from IPAC.