May 16, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
The Connecticut school board association is urging Gov. M. Jodi Rell to reject legislation that would severely limit the ability of school principals to issue out-of-school suspensions to disruptive students.
Patrice McCarthy, deputy director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said the legislation, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday and the state Senate last week, is too restrictive.
Currently, local school districts can suspend any student who violates school board policy or disrupts the educational process. Some education advocates have complained that school districts are issuing out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions, such as talking back to a teacher, skipping class or being tardy.
Public schools issued more than 77,000 out-of-school suspensions in 2005-06 to students ranging from pre-kindergartners to high school seniors, according to the state Department of Education. Advocates have complained that excessive use of out-of-school suspensions can alienate troubled students and discourage them from pursuing their education.
The adopted bill sets specific state standards for when out-of-school suspensions can be imposed. It permits school districts to issue the suspensions only if a student poses a danger to others or is extremely disruptive.
McCarthy said Tuesday the adopted bill "imposes unnecessary restrictions on the ability of administrators to impose discipline." She said administrators need to have a "range of options" in imposing discipline to meet different students' needs.
"There are circumstances where removing a student for one or two days is helpful in breaking a pattern of behavior ... to allow the student to cool off and to give school officials time to work with the student and his or her family," McCarthy said.
The bill would also create a burden for some school districts who may need to hire additional staff to monitor in-school suspensions and find space in crowded schools for the students to serve their discipline, McCarthy said.
The governor had not seen the final language of the bill as of late Tuesday and wanted to review it before taking a formal position, Rell spokesman Christopher Cooper said.
In general terms, Cooper said, Rell supports the concept that there should be some kind of uniformity in the way schools issue out-of-school suspensions.
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, was surprised and angered by the school board association's resistance to the bill. Fleischmann and other legislators agreed to push back the effective date of the bill from July 1 of this year to July 1, 2008, to accommodate the association's concerns.
"I find that outrageous," Fleischmann said. "For them to seek a veto is an affront to public school systems in this state. Every school should have a clear policy that students will only be suspended out of school if they are a danger to themselves or others or disruptive to the education process."
Absent those conditions, school districts should make every effort to keep the students in school, said Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee and a key sponsor of the bill. The bill also extends the time schools can impose in-school suspensions from a maximum of five days to a maximum of 10 days.
The Connecticut Association of Schools, an organization representing school principals, is willing to accept the bill now that legislators have pushed back the effective date, according to Dennis Carrithers, the group's assistant executive director. The later start date gives local school districts more time to plan for the change in their budgets, Carrithers said.
The House voted 111-29 for the suspension bill after a brief debate Tuesday morning.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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