Panel suggests ways to fight truancy

January 17, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

It doesn't matter whether they're sick, truant or on suspension: Students can't learn if they're not in school.

In Baltimore, where more than 2,000 public school students miss at least 100 days of school each year, "lost instructional time" is a major problem.

"Quite simply, if students don't go to school, they are not going to perform up to the standards that the state is establishing," said Phillip H. Farfel, a member of the city school board.

Farfel and other members of a special task force tonight will ask the board to approve a variety of measures to keep students in school and to cut the number who are held back.

The task force, which included parents, teachers, administrators and others, recommends a number of actions that could be taken by the board on its own authority.

In the area of discipline, the panel urged alternatives to disciplinary suspension, which can make students fall behind in their work.

The possibilities could include in-school suspension programs, which put offending students in a special class for a short time where they can keep up with their school work. An $80,000 pilot project already is under way using that concept.

The panel's report also stresses the importance of alternatives to retention, especially those cases in which students are held back simply because of reading scores or absentee rates.

"We can't have our students being held back, because we know it causes disciplinary problems and dropouts," said Farfel.

There is no question about the need for change, said Farfel. According to an executive summary to the report:

* More than 20,000 of Baltimore's 108,000 students are chronically truant.

* The dropout rate systemwide stands at nearly 50 percent.

* About 13 percent of students each year are held back a grade.

* About 2,000 students are suspended each year.

"It's a very serious issue," said Farfel. "It's one that demands an immediate response."

The report cites a number of ways in which parents and community groups can assist students. Among the most important: putting community mental health services in the schools.

And it cites a chronic complaint of students, dull teaching. Learning "needs to be more challenging, more exciting, more active learning, less passive," said Farfel.

Many of the proposals could be set in motion with the mere approval of the school board. Others, including in-school suspension, would require new revenue.

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