GARNER — A Wake County school board committee charged with improving the performance of low-income students gave a warm response Thursday to an advocacy group's recommendations for easing the district's strict discipline policies.
Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children's Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, presented a wide range of recommendations designed to reduce the number and length of student suspensions in Wake. Langberg said the changes, such as reducing the number of zero-tolerance offenses, would keep more students in school and help improve the graduation rate and academic performance.
"This is an area where we can all find common ground," said Langberg, whose group represents students who are facing suspensions. "We all believe it's important to keep kids in school."
More than 20,000 short-term suspensions of 10 days or less are issued in Wake each year. Wake also issues more than 1,000 long-term suspensions a year, meaning those students are barred from their school for the rest of the school year.
"We suspend way too many students," said Stephen Mares, principal of Broughton High School in Raleigh. "That bothers me every night."
Langberg said one of the main things they're recommending is changing Wake's definition of a long-term suspension to match the state definition of anything from 11 days to the rest of the school year.
Except in the case where it's mandated by state or federal law, Langberg said they're also recommending eliminating zero-tolerance policies that require suspension for certain offenses. For instance, he said Wake shouldn't automatically suspend a student for the rest of the school year for a two-on-one fight. He said this policy punishes students who are trying to break up fights.
Langberg is recommending Wake develop policies that would allow principals to consider mitigating factors such as age, whether the child has a mental illness and whether he or she has had a recent family death.
Providing more alternatives to suspension such as community service and Saturday school.
Providing more alternative school seats for students who receive long-term suspensions.
Providing more training to school resource officers, police officers who are assigned to schools, on how to deal with students.
Creating school-based oversight committees to review how discipline issues are handled at each school.
One recommendation that didn't get as much committee support Thursday was barring school resource officers from having guns or Tasers on campus.
But John Tedesco, chairman of the board's economically disadvantaged student performance task force, said he thought they could implement many of Langberg's recommendations.
"I think as a community we need to find the ties that bind us instead of those that separate us," Tedesco said. "This is one of the ties that binds us."
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