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Rell Postpones In-School Suspension Law

JODIE MOZDZER

March 10, 2009

When Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced she would postpone legislation to limit the number of out-of-school suspensions in Connecticut, superintendents breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The law governing suspensions which statistics show are on the rise in the state was scheduled to go into effect July 1. Bristol Superintendent Philip Streifer said the law "has become the poster child for unfunded mandates" when he testified before the legislature's education committee Monday at a public hearing on Rell's proposal and several other bills.

The law would require suspensions to be in-school, unless the student poses a danger or a major disruption to learning. Streifer estimated it would cost Bristol more than $150,000 to implement an in-school suspension program, and several other superintendents expressed concerns about how they would pay for in-school suspensions, which they say would require more staff and physical space.

But advocates for the law, which was passed in 2007 and has been postponed once, presented new data to the education committee Monday that shows suspension rates in Connecticut are increasing. Representatives from the Connecticut Voices for Children, an advocacy group, said the law needs to be implemented soon to ensure that more students won't miss school because of suspension. Student who get in-school suspension typically do not attend classes but remain at the school under supervision.

"The results are quite striking," said Alexandra Dufresne, the senior policy fellow for the Connecticut Voices for Children.

Reports of suspensions statewide increased by 4 percent from 2006-07 to 2007-08, the latest data available. But some districts had much bigger increases, according to the Connecticut Voices for Children data, which was compiled from the state Department of Education.

Hartford, for example, reported a suspension rate of 45 percent last year, compared to 19 percent the year before. Waterbury also jumped, to 43 percent from 15 percent.

Dufresne said it's not clear whether suspensions actually increased, or if districts were not accurately reporting them before but she said either scenario was "alarming."

Still, state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D- West Hartford, who co-chairs the education committee, said he reluctantly supports pushing back the date of implementation until 2011 in light of the current financial situation.

But state Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D- Meriden, the other co-chair of the committee, said his patience was running out. The data about how many students were suspended for minor infractions was "overwhelming," Gaffey said. And the law still allows districts to decided to assign an out-of-school suspension in severe cases.

"My reaction is not based on the merits," Streifer responded. "My reaction is that we're trying to fund a school system that meets the needs of all our kids. And we're going to be at the breaking point financially."

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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