Five Oregon schools have been added to the No Child Left Behind safety watch list, the state Department of Education said this week.

MEDFORD — Five Oregon schools have been added to the No Child Left Behind safety watch list, the state Department of Education said this week.

The schools made the list based on the number of expulsions last school year for offenses such as assault or weapons possession. Three of the schools are in Southern Oregon — Ponderosa Junior High in Klamath Falls and Medford's Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools. Also on the list are Reynolds Middle Schools in Fairview and the Reynolds Learning Academy.

Though the watch list for potentially dangerous schools is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states set their own standards for what is considered unsafe. Educators have long disputed Oregon's method of determining which schools are dangerous, saying schools that crack down on weapons and violence by expelling students are safer than those that overlook problems or let violators slide.

"I am disappointed that we had that many expulsions," Hedrick Principal Paul Cataldo told the Mail Tribune newspaper. "At the same time, we have to be consistent when we tell students they will be expelled for carrying a weapon by following up and expelling every student that does."

Schools can be put on the safety watch list if they have more than one student per 100 expelled. Next year, the threshold for joining the list will be raised to three expulsions per 100 students.

"Obviously the state has seen the wisdom to this not being a good definition of an unsafe school," said McLoughlin Principal Amy Tiger. Her school had 17 expulsions among its 917 students, a rate of less than 2 percent.

A school is labeled as "persistently dangerous" once it's been on the list for three consecutive years. That label entitles students to transfer to another school and requires the school district to pay for the student's transportation to the chosen campus.

Nine schools that were on the safety watch list last year were removed this year, including Salem's McKay High, which had been labeled persistently dangerous.

Being off the list is a point of pride for the school, Principal Cynthia Richardson told the Statesman Journal newspaper. "We developed a culture of caring, a culture of believing, of valuing, of making sure kids know that we're there for them regardless," Richardson said.

Cataldo said Hedrick had 14 expulsions last year among a student body of about 900 students, mostly for carrying knives. He plans to have the campus resource officer remind students about the school's policy of expelling students for a full calendar year if they carry any kind of weapon, even a pocketknife.

"The idea is we should do enough education with our students and reteach enough about guidelines to deter students from bringing weapons," Cataldo said