Suspended Students Need More Than 'Mini-Vacations' On Streets
November 22, 2005
by Helen Ubiņas
He'd heard Andrea Comer on the radio the week before, talking about her recent election to the board of education and her plan to review school suspensions, and sent her a letter.
They'd actually met a few years back, when she helped mediate between him and some other kids who were beefing. He's in jail now, which is why she wouldn't give me his name: She wanted his permission first.
But she shared the letter. Keep talking about those suspensions, the young man wrote. Back when he was in school, the 18-year-old said, he used suspensions as vacations. He'd purposely get into trouble just so he could get out of school. His mother never knew because he'd erase the messages the school left on their answering machine and rip up the letters they sent home.
"I did this from Clark all the way to Weaver," he wrote. "Damn, elementary to high school and they never got it."
Looks like folks still haven't caught on.
The word is, the weekend's rash of violence was sparked by the arrest of a 15-year-old who was on suspension from Weaver High School when he boarded a school bus and pointed a gun at a girl.
She complained, and when he tried to board the bus the next day, he was stopped by a police officer. The cop found a BB gun in his possession and arrested him.
A group of the kid's friends confronted the girl, outraged that she would complain about having a gun pointed at her. The tensions from that confrontation are believed to have contributed to the weekend violence.
The 15-year old was on a five-day outside suspension for cutting classes and leaving school grounds without permission on numerous occasions. So, you'd think the last place he'd go was school, right? But first chance he got, that's exactly what he did.
He's not alone. Spend any time outside Weaver and you'll bump into lots of kids who find their way to the school when they're suspended, looking for friends and trouble. It's not hard to catch a ride: They just hop a school bus.
In the past couple of years, the school district has been trying to reduce both in-school and outside suspensions. Most of the schools now have suspension rooms where students are confined to do homework, and "responsible thinking rooms," where students meet with a specialist about improving behavior. The result is an 11 percent decrease in in-school suspensions, from 14,728 to 13,158 last year, said Hartford's public schools spokesperson Terry D'Italia.
Outside suspensions - handed out in the worst cases - have gone down too, from 10, 743 to 9,174 last year, a 15 percent drop.
Sounds good, right? But let's do a little math.
Say 9,000 kids are suspended for 5 days each. That's 45,000 days of suspension, divided by 180 days in the school year. That's an average of 250 kids out on suspension on any given school day.
Two hundred and fifty chances for a kid who shouldn't be, to be on the bus, on the street, starting trouble that sparks even more trouble.
The good news is that there's a good idea out there. Eric Crawford, the district's violence prevention specialist, has been pushing a proposal for an intervention center that makes sense. Instead of a week-long vacation, kids would have to report to a center where they would meet with career coaches, substance and mental health specialists and where parents would be required to attend a parenting class before their children were allowed back in school.
Monday, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez said he supports the concept.
Well, now it's time to go beyond support.
There are too many kids roaming the streets of Hartford, too many kids with no supervision, no one holding them accountable for their time. Too many kids like the 18-year-old who went from mini-vacations from school to a much longer one in prison.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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