Disciplining bad students Howard County: As the number of suspensions goes up, so does the cost to educate unruly children.

October 01, 1998

AN ORDERLY classroom is absolutely essential to education. That lesson was learned when teachers operated under the maxim "spare the rod, spoil the child." But times have changed. Removing unruly students who disrupt the education of their classmates is preferable to corporal punishment. Of course, it's also more expensive.

The county board of education has voted to create a new school for "troubled" students that could cost several million dollars. The "alternative learning center" will serve disruptive students now sent to the Gateway School, as well as emotionally disturbed students in the Bridges program and violent students in the Passages program.

The decision to build a better facility for children who need additional supervision comes on the heels of the county's report of an increase in suspended students. The number of children suspended last school year jumped to 2,264 from 1,857 in 1996-1997. Most of the incidents leading to suspensions involved boys in high school.

School system officials say the increase in suspensions may, in part, reflect the steady growth in student population -- from 37,493 in 1995 to the current enrollment of 40,186. Total suspensions and the number of students who are suspended -- some of them multiple times -- have increased.

Bad kids still have to be taught, even at the expense of teaching them separately. It would benefit neither these children nor the rest of us to have them grow up both undisciplined and uneducated.

However, in addition to creating separate facilities, strategies to reduce suspensions must be developed. While some children may be incorrigible, others get into trouble when they don't receive individual attention conducive to learning. In the primary grades especially, smaller classes and teacher's aides can reduce disruptions by students. Most younger children who learn to behave do remember the lesson.

Pub date 10/1/98

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