Staying in school

Our view : More alternative education programs are essential

May 12, 2008

It should come as no surprise that Baltimore youngsters who have been killed or shot have also been missing or suspended from school. Still, data compiled by the city's Health Department and the school system underscore the inevitable connection between skipping school and the increased risk of violence as a result of being on the streets. The state's attorney's office has found, similarly, that young homicide suspects were also likely to have missed school frequently.

Schools CEO Andres Alonso has rightly tried to curtail suspensions for nonviolent offenses in an effort to keep more students in school. But they are not likely to stay without more efforts to address their academic and social needs.

The dimensions of the problem are clear. Records of nearly 400 young homicide or shooting victims from 2003 to 2007 showed that they had missed about one-third of their classes; before being shot or killed, about two-thirds of the victims had been suspended or expelled at least once.

School officials estimate that 270 students are on extended suspension or expulsion every school day, and the system can accommodate only about 1,460 students in alternative education programs. School officials are aiming to spend $15 million to expand these programs and serve about 1,000 more students. They are also seeking school board approval to restructure and enhance the programs with extended hours, more intensive and focused instruction, added internships and apprentice opportunities and more counseling and other services designed to change bad behavior and address broader family issues.

These are costly but worthy investments. Making education more of a priority for troubled youngsters can keep them out of harm's way and improve their chances in life.

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