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School Suspensions Down, Report Says

September 15, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

Amid community pressure and attention by top administrators, suspensions in Hartford's schools were down last year, according to new statistics released by school officials.

But those numbers also show that expulsions were up sharply as violence in the streets spilled into schools, with one middle school accounting for a large share of the spike.

A report prepared for the school board shows that last year there were a combined 13,158 suspensions and expulsions. That's down from 14,728 the previous year.

The total number of suspensions last year was 13,028, representing an 11 percent drop.

But the 130 expulsions reflect a 38 percent increase.

The spike is largely because of a steep rise at Quirk Middle School, Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry said. Last school year, there were 47 expulsions at Quirk. The previous year, 12 students were expelled, and that was up from 9 expulsions in the 2002-'03 school year.

Most of last year's expulsions - 16 - were for "battery," said district spokesman Terry D'Italia. The next biggest category - 11 - was for making threats of serious harm.

Quirk Principal Amador Mojica said violence and increases in gang and drug activity in the streets spilled into his school. Many fights involving students were a result of drug turf wars on the streets, he said.

"The young kids are the lookouts for drug dealers," he said.

In response to the rise in serious offenses, Mojica created a "responsible thinking room," where students are sent to talk about their behavior. That, and help from more social workers and Eric Crawford, the district's violence prevention specialist, seemed effective, he said.

Quirk is starting this year with a focus on prevention, Mojica said. "I think there's going to be a large reduction," he said.

The new report does not break down suspensions and expulsions by grade. In recent years, hundreds of youngsters in pre-kindergarten through second grade were suspended - a fact that has riled state child advocate Jeanne Milstein and activists around the city.

This year, Henry pledged there would be fewer suspensions - at least of the type that require students to remain home. Most of the schools now have suspension rooms where students are confined to do homework.

Many schools also have the "responsible thinking rooms," where students meet with a specialist about improving behavior.

Residents throughout the city have pressed Henry for years, demanding that fewer children get sent home for days or sometimes weeks at a time for swearing, pushing, or other infractions that don't result in student injuries.

Teachers' union President Cathy Carpino said reducing suspensions is among the more monumental tasks the district is taking on this year. But she stressed the importance of staffing the suspension rooms with people trained in managing student behavior and helping them with work.


Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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