Effort to cut city student suspensions

September 20, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN REPORTER

A group of philanthropists led by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore announced $1.5 million in grants this week for city schools to try to reduce suspensions and expulsions through expanded mental health services, organized recess and conflict resolution programs.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools with a high percentage of suspensions for certain offenses can be labeled "persistently dangerous" and be required to give students the option of transferring to safer schools. Some educators say that provision of the law has discouraged schools from suspending students. But the institute says the tactic is still overused in city schools and leads to truancy, academic failure, school dropouts, arrests and juvenile detention.

According to figures provided by the institute, the city school system suspended 10,899 of its 88,401 students during the 2004-2005 school year. Because some were suspended several times, the total number of suspensions was 16,641.

Of the $1.5 million raised in an attempt to limit the number of suspensions, four grants worth $515,350 are being dispersed to city schools this month. One will expand mental health services at Calverton Middle School. Another will increase from six to nine the number of schools participating in Sports4Kids, a program providing organized games and sports and teaching children to resolve conflicts peacefully.

A third grant will give conflict-resolution training to staff, pupils and families at Dr. Carter G. Woodson Elementary/Middle School, with a focus on children who are frequently in trouble. The fourth will be used to work with children at Collington Square and Hampstead Hill charter schools to understand how their behavior affects others.

For the remaining $1 million, the institute is accepting proposals for new programs. The institute, funded by billionaire financier George Soros, will host an information session for potential applicants from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 27 at 201 N. Charles St., Suite 1300.

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