Schools' Mental Health Center Has Goal -- Federally Funded Program May Help Reduce Rate of Expulsions, Suspensions

By Kelley, Michael | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), December 30, 2012 | Go to article overview

Schools' Mental Health Center Has Goal -- Federally Funded Program May Help Reduce Rate of Expulsions, Suspensions


Kelley, Michael, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


Officials of the Memphis City Schools Mental Health Center hope to continue a federally funded program next year that could help meet a difficult challenge -- reducing the expulsion and suspension rate among students with disabilities.

Current policy prohibits the suspension or expulsion of a special education student because of behavior that is a manifestation of the student's disability.

Nevertheless, an expulsion and suspension rate for special education students that put the district out of compliance with federal guidelines an unacceptable 8 percent during the 2008-09 school year prompted officials to apply for and obtain a federal grant to initiate a two-year program, which they hope to continue beyond the current school year, at six high schools that needed help with the problem.

The result: From the 2010-11 to the 2011-12 school year, the combined number of expulsions and suspensions dropped from 120 to 94 at Hillcrest High, 153 to 108 at Kirby, 146 to 108 at Melrose, 76 to 59 at Ridgeway, 114 to 105 at Trezevant and 100 to 88 at White Station.

More work needs to be done, officials of the center acknowledged, with the percentage of special education students suspended from school last year ranging from 34.5 percent at Kirby to 51.5 percent at Melrose. Expulsions ranged from 8.5 percent at White Station to 18.9 percent at Trezevant.

One of our focuses has always been trying to keep our children with disabilities in school if possible, said Dr. Patricia Toarmina, the center's executive director.

But the situation poses a challenge for school officials, said center director Dr. Randy Schnell, because many students receiving special education services have problems with thinking, reasoning, making good decisions and foreseeing consequences. They may have been diagnosed with significant emotional problems, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder or autism. …

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