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Published: Thursday, 7/2/2009

Discipline-related absences fell in 2008-09, TPS says

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Public Schools students spent less days out of school last year for discipline problems, the district announced yesterday.

There were 16.2 percent fewer students suspended and 13.3 percent fewer students expelled from the district in 2008-09 compared to the previous school year, according to numbers released by TPS.

Districtwide, students were in school more than 10,000 additional days - with 49,312 days missed for combined suspensions and expulsions in 2008-09 compared to 60,549 the year before.

"We've been able to make an impact on our discipline numbers, and we know that will reflect on more learning and more time in the classroom for our students," TPS Superintendent John Foley said.

The superintendent credited the administration, principals, teachers, parents, and community for working together to address behavior problems in the schools.

The reduction in days missed for discipline - an 18 percent decline for suspensions and a 20 percent for expulsions - is a result of several efforts to address behavioral problems in the schools, Mr. Foley said.

At the beginning of last school year, the district focused on intervention programs as alternatives to suspension and expulsions. Students can spend that time out of class in behavior modification or counseling programs.

The district also held discipline orientations for parents and students and had families sign a new behavior contract acknowledging they had read the student code of conduct.

Suspensions are 10 days or less for issues such as skipping class and insubordination. Expulsions range from 10 to 80 days and are given for more serious offenses, including drug trafficking and bomb threats.

Toledo Board of Education Member Jack Ford, who started a committee last summer to look at the high numbers of students out of school for discipline problems, saluted community members who kept this issue a priority.

"A lot of people put their hands on the plow in this to make a difference," he said.

Mr. Ford said the time spent studying the issue last summer and the committee established to look at it over the past year "[were] well worth it." In the past, discipline was approached in a "very chaotic and arbitrary" way, he said, but with these changes and more planned for the future it could be a new era for the district.

But Twila Page, a member of the African-American Parents Association who has been an advocate for discipline reform and served on the committees, said she is wary of relying on the statistics to show progress has been made.

She questions how having fewer students enrolled in the district overall might affect the numbers and wonders if in-school suspensions increased while out-of-school suspensions declined.

"I don't see it in the people we represent," she said. "I'm not seeing it all."

But she is 100 percent behind the district's plan to implement a positive behavior program for real reform.

Positive Behavior Support is a proactive approach to behavior issues that focuses on prevention rather than punishment. It has teachers modeling and teaching proper behavior in the classrooms.

"If it is implemented as a philosophy, it will change the way we think about discipline," Mr. Ford said.

The district will begin the program in the elementary schools.

The program was a recommendation that came from the discipline committee.

Also yesterday, Mr. Foley and the school board announced they are seeking public input on a comprehensive review of the district's policy manual. The policies can be reviewed on the district's Web site, www.tps.org, by clicking on the link to register and review the manual.

To make sure it's Toledoans commenting on the policies, the public is asked to create an account. Once a person registers, he can log in to review the policy manual.

Comments can be e-mailed to policyreview@tps.org.

The policy review will be on the Web site through July 31.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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