Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Same Small Group of Duval Students Causes Most Discipline Woes, District Says; by Denise Smith Amos

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Same Small Group of Duval Students Causes Most Discipline Woes, District Says; by Denise Smith Amos

Article excerpt

Byline: damos@jacksonville.com

About 10 percent of students cause nearly 85 percent of the disciplinary referrals in Duval County Public Schools, figures just released for the district's first 100 days of school show.

Overall, the number of disciplinary referrals and suspensions this year is continuing the downward trend of most of the years since 2010, district officials said.

Students with more than one written infraction make up only 10 percent of the student body but 53 percent of all student offenders account for 84 percent of all discipline referrals, said Jackie Simmons Jr., executive director of student discipline and support.

Total days in suspension are down from a 2011 high of 35,847 to 17,015 this year, Simmons said. Those figures include in-school and out-of-school suspensions. There were 3,277 students who received more than one suspension, a drop of 44 percent from 7,446 in 2011.

Some School Board members voiced the public's skepticism about the declines.

"One of the things we hear in our discussions in the community is people will accuse us of not pushing discipline to ramp the numbers down," said Scott Shine, a board member, "that we don't report suspensions or referrals so the discipline numbers look better. And educators said they're under pressure not to do referrals."

Simmons acknowledged district officials monitor discipline numbers for each school but teachers remain "the first line of defense" for deciding whether and how to discipline students.

"Teachers should be writing up the offenses that are referable, and for offenses that are not referable, they should be utilizing classroom management techniques," Simmons said.

Also, deans have been trained to "maximize the alternatives to suspension," such has contacting parents, or pointing students toward options such as peer mediation, Simmons said.

"Out-of-school suspension should be the last thing we do," Simmons said. "We know our goal is to get students educated. It's really difficult to do that if the student is sitting at home."

This is the first year in a while that Duval has closed all Alternative to Out-of-School Suspension, or ATOSS, centers. It's also the first year in several that out-of-school suspensions climbed steeply to 6,992, up from 5,078 the year before.

Students used to be referred to ATOSS centers for adult supervision and help instead of being sent home after serious infractions. But the programs, which were jointly paid for by the county and the district, ran out of money and support as their use declined.

Now some schools are piloting a kind of in-school ATOSS, Simmons said, because they still don't want suspended students unsupervised when out of school. …

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