Rate of suspensions rose in middle schools but dropped in others Most infractions involve fighting

September 16, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Suspensions increased in Howard County middle schools but dropped in elementary and high schools last school year, officials said.

The number of suspensions in middle schools rose from 336 to 359 in the 1991-1992 year, but dropped from 135 to 82 in elementary schools and from 885 to 796 in high schools.

School officials blamed the infractions leading to the suspensions -- ranging from poor attendance to theft -- on peer pressure, increased violence, and puberty.

Most suspensions were for fighting and disruptive behavior.

"A lot of the fighting starts in the community and continues into school, where the principal must deal with it, " said Alice W. Haskins, instructional director of middle schools.

"Middle school students don't let go of things; they hold on to them."

Other school officials said some students are acting out what they see around them.

"The resort to violence is an alarming characteristic of our society," said Daniel Jett, instructional director of high schools. "We're not islands. We're reflective of our society."

Ten pupils were suspended at Talbott Springs Elementary during April and May.

A rise in the number of suspensions often occurs after the winter months.

"When kids move out of a structured environment to a playground -- an unstructured environment -- more incidents are likely to occur," said Edward Alexander, instructional director of elementary schools.

School officials also said a greater percentage of black students were suspended.

In elementary schools, black students made up half of all suspensions this year, a 17 percent increase.

In middle schools, the percent age of black students suspended declined slightly from 33 to 32. In high schools, blacks constituted 33 percent of all suspensions, as compared with 29 percent last year.

Principals are trying to reduce the percentage of black students who are suspended by initiating a new peer-mediation program starting in all eight high schools this year and implementing programs related to the school system's human relations goal.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has said that he wants to improve the system's human relations climate by establishing human relations committees at every school and continuing multicultural curriculum.

To reduce the number of suspensions, school administrators are using a variety of strategies, such as in-school detention programs and rewards for positive behavior.

Talking with students privately rather than embarrassing them in front of the class is a helpful way to avoid suspensions, Mr. Alexander said.

"We need to deal with youngsters in a more dignified manner," he said.

Programs that stress individual attention and small class size also reduce suspensions, said school officials, who hope to expand peer-mediation programs in middle schools and in-school detention programs in high schools.

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