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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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