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Educators Argue To End In-School Suspension Law's Delay, Enact School Reforms

Amanda Falcone

April 17, 2010

Key educators said at a legislative forum Friday that they want no further delays in the state's in-school suspension law.

Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said that for the state's application for federal Race to the Top funding to succeed, lawmakers must support a high school reform plan and implement the in-school suspension law passed in 2007 initiatives he said will help the state tackle its achievement gap.

Only 79.3 percent of all Connecticut students graduate high school in four years, McQuillan said, and the percentage is much lower for minorities and for students from low-income families.

A bill that would establish more rigorous high school graduation requirements has been approved by the legislature's education and appropriations committees. This week, the education committee killed a bill that would have postponed the in-school suspension law requiring that most suspensions be served in school, not at home until July 2011.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, however, has vowed to find a way to resurrect the postponement.

Those who want another delay say they have concerns about the cost of staffing to handle more in-school suspensions. The CCM estimates that the annual cost would range from $9,000 for small towns to $4.5 million for larger cities.

While they acknowledged opponents' concerns, educators said there are ways of improving a school environment at little cost and that the benefits are worth it.

The in-school suspension law was first scheduled to take effect in 2008 but has been delayed twice. It will go into effect July 1 unless it is postponed again.

Just by being on the books, the in-school suspension law has been a catalyst, said Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. Several districts have improved schools by creating "positive behavior" programs and in-school suspension programs that keep more students in school and out of trouble, he said. Out-of-school suspensions remain an option for students who are a danger to themselves or others, he added.

East Hartford and other districts have a designated in-school suspension room staffed by a tutor. A certified teacher helps students one period a day, and suspended students spend some of their day talking about good choices and reflecting on their behavior. A grant helps pay for the program in East Hartford.

Rocky Hill Superintendent Jeffrey Villar said his district is benefiting from a positive-behavior program that sets expectations and rewards students for good behavior. It also has an in-school suspension program.

In Stafford, Superintendent Therese Fishman said she has seen the number of out-of-school suspensions decrease significantly because of an in-school suspension program and a mentorship program.

A paraprofessional makes $18 an hour to monitor an in-school suspension room in Cromwell and is assigned other tasks when he is not needed, Cromwell High School Principal Mark Benigni said.

"It's about discipline, not punishment," he said. "Just sending them home is not working."

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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