Disciplined discipline

November 29, 2007

Fewer Baltimore students have been suspended from school so far this school year, a result of a new policy by schools CEO Andres Alonso to be more involved in any recommended suspension that would keep a child out of school for more than a week. The policy - and the results - are welcome. Barring students from school interrupts the learning process and encourages more dropouts.

The new policy is consistent with Mr. Alonso's emphasis on teaching and learning. In September, Baltimore's school commissioners agreed that any suspension longer than a week would have to be not only approved by the school principal but also seconded by Mr. Alonso or his designee. He has also told principals that they should have good reasons for suspending students for nonviolent offenses such as insubordination or cutting class.

His efforts to refocus attention on keeping students in school appear to be paying off. For the first several weeks of the current school year, there were 2,354 student suspensions for 10 days or less, compared with 3,696 during the same period last year. Much of the difference results from discretionary areas, such as refusing to obey school policies or cutting class, where administrators have chosen not to suspend students.

At the same time, however, school officials are still cracking down on the most serious offenses, such as drug possession, theft or carrying a weapon; long-term suspensions of more than 10 days for these and other offenses were about the same - 313 this year, compared with 332 last year.

Mr. Alonso wants to ensure that all students know the code of conduct and that administrators implement it fairly. He should also make good on his promises to expand to more schools a proven program, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and to give principals additional money for alternatives to kicking students out of school buildings, such as in-school suspension and alternative classes. These are among the best antidotes to bad student behavior, and Mr. Alonso is right to bring more discipline to the disciplinary process.

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