Long-term school suspensions rise for fifth straight year in Harford

July 30, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

The number of long-term suspensions and expulsions in Harford County middle and high schools has increased for the fifth straight year, according to a year-end report.

Students were suspended by the superintendent for more than five school days or expelled 729 times from the start of school in September until the end in June.

That's an increase of 99 cases from the 1993-1994 school year. About half the increase came from suspensions and expulsions in the county's alternative education program, whose numbers were included for the first time this year.

In five years the number of such suspensions and expulsions has more than tripled, increasing at a faster pace than enrollment. In the 1989-1990 school year, students were suspended or expelled 206 times by the superintendent.

During the same period, enrollment in middle and high schools increased by 21 percent, going from 14,335 in 1989-1990 to 17,366 in 1994-1995.

Harford administrators said they are not sure why suspensions and expulsions are increasing at such a pace.

The reason most likely is a combination of stricter discipline by administrators and increased misbehavior by students, said Deputy Superintendent Albert F. Seymour.

Most of the 47 suspensions from the county's alternative education program ordered by the superintendent were for 10 days or more. Students in the program already have been suspended or expelled from their regular schools and attend night classes in a strict, no-frills setting.

When a student is suspended or expelled, it is a school system failure, said school system spokesman Donald R. Morrison. But the measures are necessary, he said.

"We are going to guarantee a safe and secure environment, and we are not going to tolerate behavior that would detract from effective operation of the schools," Mr. Morrison said. "It is still true that 95 percent of our kids have never been involved in a serious breach of school rules" that caused them to be suspended.

A middle- or high-school student is suspended first by the principal, who can ban a student for up to five days. If the principal decides the violation is serious enough -- possession of illegal drugs or an aggravated assault, for instance -- he or she can refer the student's case to the superintendent. The superintendent then can add five or more days to the suspension or expel the student for the rest of the school year.

The most frequent causes for suspensions by the superintendent were refusal to cooperate with school policies, drug-related offenses and truancy or unexcused absences.

Aberdeen High, which has the fourth-highest county enrollment, had the most suspensions by the superintendent -- 99 cases last year.

In 1994-1995, middle and high school principals banned students from school more than 3,900 times. Students were suspended in school, meaning they were isolated in a classroom or library, more than 2,600 times.

Two middle schools, Edgewood and Aberdeen, topped the list for the number of suspensions by principals, with 444 and 401 out-of-school suspensions.

Suspension is usually a last resort, after meetings of students and teachers, sessions with guidance counselors, and even parent-teacher conferences, Edgewood Principal Robert L. Depuy said. "It's unfortunate that we can't meet the needs of some students in a way other than suspension," he said.

SCHOOL-BY-SCHOOL SUSPENSIONS FOR 1994-1995

* Aberdeen High School: 99 suspensions or expulsions by the superintendent, 397 out-of-school suspensions by the principal; 1,081 students enrolled.

* Havre de Grace High School: 69 by superintendent, 297 by principal; 553 students.

* C. Milton Wright High School: 67 by superintendent, 256 by principal; 1,300 students.

* Aberdeen Middle School: 62 by superintendent, 401 by principal; 1,236 students.

* Joppatowne High School: 58 by superintendent, 281 by principal; 889 students.

* Edgewood High School: 57 by superintendent, 253 by principal; 869 students.

* Magnolia Middle School: 44 by superintendent, 97 by principal; 853 students.

* Bel Air High School: 43 by superintendent, 264 by principal; 1,291 students.

* Edgewood Middle School: 36 by superintendent, 444 by principal; 1,092 students.

* Havre de Grace Middle School: 31 by superintendent, 152 by principal; 536 students.

* North Harford High School: 28 by superintendent; 233 by principal; 1,057 students.

* North Harford Middle School: 22 by superintendent, 205 by principal; 1,021 students.

* Fallston High School: 21 by superintendent, 161 by principal; 1,299 students.

* Harford Technical High School: 18 by superintendent, 89 by principal; 660 students.

* Bel Air Middle School: 14 by superintendent, 163 by principal; 1,105 students.

* Southampton Middle School: 10 by superintendent, 158 by principal; 1,538 students.

* Fallston Middle School: 3 by superintendent, 53 by principal; 986 students.

SOURCE: Office of Pupil Services, Harford County Schools

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