Wake County wants more space to educate suspended students

Wake County’s school system needs more space and more locations around the county to provide alternative learning programs for students who’ve been suspended or who need a nontraditional environment, according to an analysis presented Tuesday by school officials.

In addition to asking for more space, school administrators say they want to start a nonremedial program for students who haven’t been suspended but who might benefit from a small school that offers flexible hours and a mix of online and in-person courses.

“What we’re trying to do is to provide opportunities to some of our most vulnerable students,” said Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for academic advancement.

The identification of the need for more space – about 30,000 square feet, or about a third the size of an elementary school – comes at a time when the state’s largest school system faces increased pressure on how to meet the needs of suspended students. While Wake has added new schools to keep up with growth, the space for alternative programs for students hasn’t increased nearly as much.

Moore said the system wants to set up regional programs for these students.

School administrators formed a team to review space needs that the district can’t necessarily wait to fund until the next school-construction bond referendum appears on the ballot. School board member Jim Martin said it’s critical to find more spaces for alternative programs.

“This is really important work and has a big impact on kids,” he said.

No cost estimate for the new space was included in the study.

Many complaints

Youth advocates have filed multiple complaints over the years with the state accusing Wake of violating federal and state laws by inadequately serving special-education students who receive long-term suspensions.

One of the long-standing complaints is about the SCORE program, which provides online courses for middle-school and high-school students who’ve been suspended for the rest of the school year. Critics have argued it’s not adequate to provide only online courses for those students.

Wake has begun the work of providing a location where students can go for the SCORE program. But the new report advocates creating more physical locations for alternative learning centers so that SCORE students can have a place to receive support for their social and emotional needs.

School board member Bill Fletcher said he’s pleased that the students will get help to make better choices in their lives.

“One of the frustrations of dealing with student discipline that reaches the board is we know the students need more than just academic support,” he said.

Another need identified is more space for middle school students with disabilities who’ve received long-term suspensions – which are suspensions of more than 10 days from class. The Transitions program serves 40 students at space leased at the DuBois Center in Wake Forest, but school officials want to offer it in a more centralized location.

“It’s not an ideal location,” Moore told the board. “Getting them there and providing transportation is not efficient, and we need more space to serve our students.”

Finding space

The opening of these additional sites depends on when Wake can find the space.

Wake is looking at converting some facilities such as condos it owns off New Bern Avenue in east Raleigh. But other programs will require leasing or purchasing new locations.

“Land and buildings and opportunities don’t come in nice easy packages,” said Betty Parker, Wake’s senior director of real-estate services.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

Student assignment plan approved

The Wake County school board on Tuesday approved a student assignment plan that will move fewer than 3,300 students to different schools next year.

School leaders say the students need to move to fill five new schools opening in the 2016-17 school year and to ease crowding at other schools. The majority of the students being moved are eligible to be grandfathered, meaning they will be allowed to stay at their current school next year if they provide their own transportation.

Also on Tuesday, the school board elected Tom Benton to be chairman for the next year. Benton, an education consultant and retired principal, succeeds Christine Kushner, who was limited to two years as board chairwoman.

The board elected Monika Johnson-Hostler to replace Benton as the new vice chair.