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A Plan To Reduce School Suspensions

August 3, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

In response to intense community pressure, Hartford Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry announced a five-point plan to reduce suspensions and expulsions next year.

The strategy includes in-school suspension rooms in many schools, training for teachers in classroom management and dealing with anti-social behavior and training for parents on ways to support teachers' discipline methods at home.

Each year, schools will also be required to prepare plans to reduce suspensions and expulsions and to improve school climate and teachers will be asked to make sure students understand consequences for their behavior.

Each year, the school district doles out thousands of suspensions; some students are suspended multiple times. Hundreds go to students in the earliest grades; in 2003-04, 547 suspensions were given to children in pre-kindergarten through first grade.

Henry said the number of suspensions declined this past year, but he did not offer evidence of that, refusing to release statistics until he presents them to the school board. It is unclear when he will make that presentation.

After many parent and community complaints about the high number of suspensions, Henry assigned a task force comprising retired principals, students, parents and teachers to present recommendations for alternatives to suspensions and the group presented its findings Tuesday morning. Henry approved the document and released it just hours in advance of a meeting sponsored by Hartford Areas Rally Together under the banner "Hartford Organizations Join Forces to Demand Improvements in School Discipline Policy."

Henry cautions that there will be no room in the classroom for bad student behavior. "Students have to respect the rights of the other students and the teachers," he said. "This is not just a school responsibility - this is a shared responsibility. And parents have a responsibility to participate."

The plan will be phased in over the next school year and could cost as much as $25,000 a school in staff and training. The cost is covered by grants and the general budget.

Sharon Patterson-Stallings, secretary of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - ACORN - said she was pleased by Henry's swift approval of the task force recommendations. "It sounds very good."

But in-school suspensions won't work, she cautioned, if the staff in charge of those rooms are not well-trained in classroom management.

In one in-school suspension classroom at a middle school, she said, "kids were running wild."

Henry said the staff will be trained. Currently, he said, each of the high schools and middle schools, and 18 of the 26 elementary schools have either an in-school suspension room or a "responsible thinking" room. In the thinking rooms, students work with a teacher to reflect on their behavior and come up with a strategy for doing better next time.

One goal of the plan is to have an in-school suspension room at each elementary school.

Autumn Anderson, a recent graduate of Hartford Public High School who participated in the task force, said having in-school suspensions is better than sending youngsters home, but there is no substitute for keeping them in the classroom.

Anderson suggested that principals sometimes abuse their discretion in suspending students. Her third-grade brother was suspended for three days, she said, because he tangled with another student over who would be first in line.

"I see that he's trying to make some progress," Anderson said of Henry. "We'll believe it when we see 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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