Youngstown schools grapple with high suspension rates


By Denise Dick

denise_dick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

City school officials have tried counseling, grade reconfiguration and training, but high discipline and suspension rates continue, exceeding those of the state and comparison districts.

Youngstown schools’ discipline categories “continue to trend upward, resulting in higher 2013-14 rates than comparison school districts,” a January report from the Ohio Department of Education said.

It’s an issue broached more than once by the Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission and school board members who reason that students can’t learn if they aren’t in school.

The district last year began using more in-school suspensions as an alternative to out-of-school suspensions.

“We have more in-school suspension and we try to counsel kids,” Superintendent Connie Hathorn said.

Doug Hiscox, deputy superintendent for academic affairs, said part of the reason for high numbers of out-of-school suspensions was that some administrators were implementing maximum penalties. That was addressed by talking to those officials and explaining the district’s policies.

“There is discretion on the part of the principal,” Hiscox said.

The larger issue, however, remains.

“It still comes back to modifying [student] behavior if we’re ever going to get the rates down,” he said.

The district has employed D&E Counseling, used Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations and provided teacher training in attempts to address the problem.

Even peer mediation, which was used by the district a number of years ago and stopped when grant funding expired, didn’t improve suspension percentages, the deputy superintendent said.

“Nobody, including myself, likes those numbers because it means days lost,” Hiscox said.

Joffrey Jones, academic commission chairman, said monitoring by adults in the areas and times of day where problems occur is one method the district could try if it hasn’t already.

The Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, a commission member, said last month volunteers and the clergy community would be willing to assist with school monitoring.

Jones, retired Euclid Schools superintendent, said that district required a parent conference when a student returned from suspension.

Euclid also often sent a student for an expulsion hearing — without intending to expel the student — if a second fight occurred. A parent was required to attend that hearing.

“I’m not saying those things aren’t being done in Youngstown,” Jones said. “If they’re not, those are some things they could try.”

Jackie Adair, a school board member, also worries about suspension rates which include kindergarten students. Hathorn said an offense that could result in a young child being suspended would be fighting, violence or being out of control.

Adair said she wants to meet with Hathorn and Hiscox to discuss the problem.

People who deal with young children should understand their psychology, she said.

“It has a lot to do with their emotional maturity,” she said. Maybe those children aren’t ready emotionally for school, Adair said.

“Based on national information — research data — it is becoming painfully clear that children are being suspended, especially African-American children, out of day care. This is not just a Jackie deal. The NEA [National Education Association] has written papers on this,” she said.

Disobedient/disruptive behavior and fighting/violence remain the top reasons for out-of-school suspensions in the district as of last school year, the ODE report shows.

“There has been a trade- off between out-of-school and in-school suspensions for disobedient/disruptive behavior and fighting/violence,” it says. “While the out-of-school suspensions have decreased, the number of students receiving in-school suspensions has increased by approximately 84 percent in the past three years.”

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