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Published: Wed, March 26, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Tim Yovich

Protesters want school board to change zero tolerance for fighting

A councilman called the effort to change the school disciplinary policy an ‘uprising.’

WARREN — Leaders of an effort to reduce the expulsion rate in city schools vowed to get the board of education to change its zero-tolerance policy against in-school fighting, even if it takes ousting board members from office.

They made their feelings known Tuesday during a rally sponsored by the West Side Community Coalition at New Freedom Missionary Baptist Church attended by about 100.

“If the board won’t listen, they can be taken out of office,” Fred Harris, former city safety-service director, told the group.

Councilman James A. “Doc” Pugh, D-6th, called on the group to become united so it can force the school board to change its policy because good students are being expelled.

Part of the problem, Pugh noted, is that the district administration is hiring teachers from the suburbs who haven’t dealt with the “black experience.”

Pugh, however, who termed the school district policy “selective discipline,” said the group must make the district the best it can possibly be for all students.

“We’re not against the policy. It’s how the policy is being administered” that troubles the group, Pugh said. “The crime doesn’t fit the punishment.”

He characterized the effort as an “uprising.”

“This is serious business,” said Ronald Fowlis, president of Warren-Trumbull County NAACP. “It will cripple our kids. It will give them complexes,” he said of the policy.

About a dozen ministers began questioning the zero-tolerance policy after a fight at Warren G. Harding High involving three girls. Two of them were suspended and withdrew from school so they wouldn’t be expelled. They are now attending Life Skills Center so the older sister, a senior, can graduate this year.

Eleanor Williamson, great-aunt of the sisters, said their mother won’t appeal because she is fearful the senior won’t graduate.

The third girl, who has been described as a good student with no history of fighting, has been expelled.

The Rev. Alton Merrell Sr., pastor of New Jerusalem Fellowship Church, said the group’s primary concern is to get the expelled student back in the classroom so she can graduate but also work at getting the policy changed.

“We’re in this all together,” the Rev. Mr. Merrell said. “I’ve never seen the pastors come together as now.”

A group of ministers wanted to talk with schools Superintendent Kathryn Hellweg about the issue last Wednesday, but Hellweg called the police and the ministers left the board’s Monroe Street offices.

Hellweg has said discipline is administered on a case-by-case basis, but she wouldn’t discuss the fight involving the three girls.

Mr. Merrell said if the ministers can’t get a meeting with the school administration, he questioned how the students and their parents are being treated.

“That’s why we’re hot,” Mr. Merrell said. “We think we should be heard.”

He told the group that if a student is chronically fighting, then discipline is required.

At-large city Councilwoman Helen Rucker said council has changed its rules allowing more people to speak at council sessions. The school board has limited the number because it hasn’t been challenged.

A second rally will be at 6 p.m. today at New Jerusalem Fellowship, 2555 Palmyra Road.


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