Principal Eric Thornsbury has decided that Tates Creek Middle School will become the second school in Lexington to eliminate most out-of-school suspensions.
Similar to the program that has evolved at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Tates Creek Middle officials place students in a room at school where teachers help them keep up with their assignments and talk about their behavior. Students are escorted to and from their buses to a room they cannot leave. Lunches are brought to them.
"We had heard about Dunbar's program and thought that we could implement something in our building that kept kids at school," Thornsbury said. "This is clearly where they need to be. It's hard to educate a student that's not in the building."
Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton said Friday he anticipates "that our school district will be moving toward the elimination of out-of-school suspensions over the next year as more of our middle and high schools develop and implement changes to their disciplinary methods and procedures."
Thornsbury's decision comes at a time when Fayette County Public Schools' Equity Council has called for an end to most out-of-school suspensions because members are concerned that teachers and staff make subjective, inequitable decisions. In 2012-13, for example 13.7 percent of black students were suspended compared to 3.5 percent of white students. Poor and disabled students were also suspended at higher rates, according to a report from the equity council.
"I personally believe that out-of school suspensions are counterproductive," Shelton said. "Setting high expectations for behavior does not require that we withhold instruction from students who make a poor choice. As a district we recognize that sending students home for misbehavior is not the answer."
At Tates Creek Middle, in addition to a teacher who helps every student in the alternative program, students' classroom teachers stop by to check on their progress, Thornsbury said.
Tates Creek Middle associate principal James McMillin said some students would rather be sent home for a few days than enter the rigid alternative program where they generally can't leave the room.
In the past, "the suspension sometimes was what the kid was after to begin with," said McMillin. "We would suspend kids and they would be out riding their bikes."
McMillin said he hopes the district could start a program to help parents of students who are suspended. Many of them have asked the school for help managing their child's behavior, McMillin said.
Both Tates Creek and Dunbar principals say the incidents of bad behavior have dropped since the programs began. Dunbar had 161 suspensions before the program began. By this time last year, Tates Creek Middle had already had a handful of suspensions. This year, they've had one.
Board member Melissa Bacon said at a school board meeting on Monday that if the district decides to eliminate all out-of-school suspensions, then principals need to start planning now, because developing alternative programs takes time and additional staffing.
Board member Daryl Love said that the district would have to determine the costs of developing the programs.
At Dunbar, principal Betsy Rains said the costs associated with her program include the salary of one teacher.
Other principals say they have been working on reducing suspensions through in-school programs and would need more resources to eliminate them.
Bryan Station High School principal Mike Henderson said he is not in favor of out-of-school suspensions, but his school doesn't have the money to launch a program that would eliminate them altogether.
Lafayette Principal Bryne Jacobs and Henderson say they initiate out-of- school suspensions only in situations of drug use, serious fights and violent offenses.
Each high school typically reports hundreds of incidents of disruptive behavior every year, which can include everything from arguing in the cafeteria to throwing a chair. The schools have reported only a handful of drug and alcohol offenses and a few dozen fights in the last few years.
Jacobs said it's difficult to make comparisons on how schools discipline students, because each school characterizes behavior differently.
District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said at one school, "tardy" could mean that a student is five minutes late to class. At another, a student might be considered late as soon as the bell rings.
In an effort to have consistent discipline across the district, in June the school board approved a new code of conduct for 2014-15 that officials say reflects the district's commitment to reducing out-of-school suspensions. The code classifies violations from minor to severe and describes possible responses from school officials.
Henry Clay student Ross L. Boggess is on a student advisory committee for the district. He said students are talking about the possible ban on out-of-school suspensions and debating which method would be preferable.
Boggess said he would be in a lot of trouble at home if he got suspended. But he said for other students, the new programs are "a lot more scary than out-of-school suspension, because you are forced to be there, you are forced to be accountable."