Student Suspensions Increased 47-Percent at Paterson Schools
Thursday, October 4, 2012 • 11:36am
PATERSON, NJ – Thirty-seven percent of the students at School 11 were suspended during the 2010-11 academic year, according to data on the state education department’s website. At School 10, the number was 28 percent and at School 6 it was 25 percent. The state average for elementary schools was four percent, according to the education department.
The situation at Paterson high schools was even worse. Kennedy High had 60 percent suspensions, Eastside’s technology school 52 percent, and Rosa Parks high school 40 percent. The state average for high schools was 16 percent.
District wide, Paterson had about 4,000 suspensions in 2010-11, a startling 47-percent increase compared to the previous year, the state data shows.
City education advocates are alarmed by those numbers, prompting them to hold a rally last Saturday to draw attention to the situation. Most problematic to the advocates is the fact that the majority of the suspensions result in troubled kids staying home from school, essentially banning them from the place where they are supposed to get help.
“This is a national problem, not just a Paterson problem,’’ said Irene Sterling, director of the Paterson Education Fund (PEF), a nonprofit group. “Throughout this country, poor children and children of color are disproportionately harmed by out-of-school suspension that limits their learning and reduces their commitment to life-long learning, resulting in dropping out of school and a life of dependency.
Sterling urged city education officials to expand the practice of in-school suspensions that’s used at some Paterson school to the whole district. Sterling also called on the district to expand its alternative education programs for children “who do not thrive in regular school settings.’’
In the aftermath of the rally, state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans said he agreed with the advocates’ criticisms. At Wednesday night’s Board of Education workshop meeting, Evans said the district would devise a plan in the next several weeks to address the problem.
Board member Jonathan Hodges asked Evans to provide a breakdown on how many of the suspensions were in-school and how many were out-of-school. The data on the state education department website does not make that distinction. The PEF, school board members and PatersonPress.com all have requested that data from the district and have not yet received it.
Evans told the board on Wednesday that he would supply the information. According to advocates, only some city schools use in-school suspensions. Board members are not happy about that.
“Taking them out of school is not the answer for these children,’’ said city schools commissioner Corey Teague.
In some cases, Hodges said, students actually try to get suspended as a way of getting out of going to school. “All you’re doing is giving them what they want,’’ he said.
The challenge, according to education officials, is finding a solution for youths whose behavior becomes so bad that they disrupt the education process for other students.
“Certainly we want to have all of our students in class, each and every day – and actively engaged in the learning process,’’ said district spokeswoman Terry Corallo.
Sterling suggested the school district enter partnerships with community groups that deal with family issues that may be affecting the students’ behavior. She also said the district should set goals for reducing the numbers of suspensions.
Corallo said initiative aimed at improving the environment of city schools likely will result I fewer suspensions in coming years. “As we continue to promote healthy school cultures throughout the district, we expect to continue to see the number of incidents that result in suspensions decrease,’’ she said.