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Connecticut's Much-Delayed In-School Suspension Law Has July 1 Start

Grace E. Merritt and Amanda Falcone

April 16, 2010

Despite a last-ditch effort to postpone it again, a 2007 state law that requires students to serve suspensions in school rather than at home is scheduled to take effect July 1.

Implementation of the law has been delayed for two years because of concerns by municipal and school officials about its potential cost.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, calling the law a prime example of an unfunded mandate, estimated that the cost would range from $9,000 a year for small towns to as much as $4.5 million for large cities.

The law was taken off the shelf after a bill attempting to postpone it for another year failed to pass the education committee Wednesday. That cleared the way for the law to take effect unless someone tries to postpone it again, possibly through an amendment, before the legislative session ends May 5.

The law is designed to make sure suspended students are properly supervised and keep up with their homework while they are being punished. But some towns and superintendents say the timing is bad because schools must hire paraprofessionals or teachers to supervise the suspended students, even as teachers are being laid off because of tight budgets.

"You couldn't choose a worse time to impose a new unfunded mandate on towns, in the middle of a severe recession," said Kevin Maloney, a CCM spokesman.

The education committee has scheduled an informational forum on the law today at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building to give legislators a chance to explain the law and hear from experts.

State Sen. Tom Gaffey, D- Meriden, who proposed the law and is co-chairman of the education committee, said the policy will help students.

"This is a good policy for kids," he said. "It will keep them in school and out of trouble."

Gaffey said the law gives schools flexibility in deciding where to place the suspended students and also to impose out-of-school suspensions for more serious incidents.

The law, which was to take effect in 2008, requires schools to find a space for suspended students and provide staff to supervise them. That worries some school superintendents.

Enfield, for example, has estimated that it would have to pay at least $40,000 a year to hire a paraprofessional for each of the town's two high schools.

"A lot of boards and superintendents are concerned about unfunded mandates," said Enfield Superintendent John Gallacher. "We had a school board meeting [Wednesday] night and there was a lot of frustration. They are having a very, very hard time. It's a very tight budget year."

Gov. M. Jodi Rell asked for a postponement of the law in her February budget address regarding the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Gaffey disagreed that the law will be expensive and pointed out that it's a lot more expensive to pay for a student who ends up in juvenile court.

Some school systems already offer in-school suspension programs. Bloomfield, for example, has had both in-school and out-of-school suspensions for years.

Bloomfield Superintendent David Title said in-school suspensions work reasonably well for some students and help keep them from falling behind on their school work. But he likes having the option of out-of-school suspensions for more serious offenses, such as fighting, because it sends a stronger message.

"We know kids like to be in the school environment and sometimes excluding them from that is seen as much more serious," he said.

Title said he is concerned that the legislation might tie the hands of superintendents, giving them less discretion to decide the appropriate punishment.

"In-school suspensions are a good alternative, a preferred alternative," he said, "but local school boards and local school districts want to have discretion rather than having legislators or the State Board of Education telling us, 'You can't do it.'"

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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