El Rancho Eliminates Off-Campus Suspensions

Times Staff Writer

In an attempt to reduce suspensions and salvage average daily attendance funds, the El Rancho Unified School District has joined almost a dozen other Southeast area school districts that keep suspended students on campus and require them to continue their studies.

Isolated from their schoolmates, the suspended students at El Rancho High School are confined to a classroom from 8:10 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., taking lunch there.

A similar program for students who have been expelled is expected to begin in September, according to board member Pete Ramirez, who called for a cost-effective program that would be accepted by parents, reduce suspensions at the high school and minimize the loss of average daily attendance money from the state. El Rancho had tried the program on a limited basis in one middle school earlier this year.

Similar Programs

In the Southeast area, at least 10 districts, including several in Whittier and others serving Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Compton, La Mirada, Los Nietos, Lynwood, Norwalk, Paramount and Santa Fe Springs, all offer similar suspension programs.

The El Rancho program, unanimously approved by the school board March 12 and begun Monday, follows a study of suspensions and expulsions requested in December by Ramirez. The study covers the 5 1/2-year period from 1979-1980 through the first semester of 1984-1985, according to Assistant Supt. Huey Nolin.

In that period, the district recorded 1,108 students suspended for a total of 2,322 days, he said. The number of expulsions in the same period was 98 students for a total of 7,813 days. That means the district lost $12.10 a day in average daily attendance funds for each student who was not in school, he said, more than $120,000 at the current reimbursement rate.

Nolin said the program will be evaluated at the end of the school year and will probably be continued in the fall. The district has 14 schools and 10,179 students.

The students end up being ostracized by their classmates and receive a "powerful social message and it just works," said Jim Milner, assistant director for attendance and administrative services for the county superintendent of schools.

Suspensions Counterproductive

Most of the 83 districts in the county, he said, have a variation of the program because they found suspension was counterproductive and resulted in revenue loss.

Officials in those districts agreed that the programs have been effective.

The program is strict and offered in "an environment that doesn't allow regular socialization," said Ron Boyd, deputy superintendent for the Compton Unified School District, which offers the program in elementary, junior and high schools.

"The student doesn't have the distraction of friends and has to focus on the work at hand, he said.

Even so, the program is "not designed to be punitive but therapeutic," said Drew Meyer, principal of Bellflower High School, where the program offers counseling in addition to assignments.

"We emphasize the positive and cut back on the negative punishment," he said. "We're giving the students alternatives to coping with behaviors that got them in there."

The officials also view the program as a solution to keeping the students off the streets and out of trouble.

"We're trying to keep the kids in school. If we put them out on the street, they're not learning," said Frank Peck, assistant principal at Alondra Intermediate School in the Paramount Unified School District, which provides an "alternative class" as well as off-campus suspension for severe infractions.

Bill Kirk, director of pupil personnel services in the Whittier Union High School District, agreed with the other officials.

"We have a large percentage of parents who work, so we prefer to keep (the students) in school. We've found it to be more effective and acceptable than suspending them and sending them home and out on the street," he said.

First Used in Fall

In the El Rancho district, the program was first used this fall at North Park Middle School and was added Monday at the high school, where suspensions have been a major problem. The high school has 2,764 students; North Park has 867 pupils. It is not being used in the district's elementary schools and two other middle schools where suspensions have not been a problem, school officials said.

At North Park, as in the other districts, students are detained in a classroom for infractions such as excessive tardiness, failure to complete homework or class work or inappropriate classroom behavior.

The North Park program has reduced suspensions by more than 50%, according to Principal Ron Colosimo, who said the school had 20 suspensions last school year and five so far this school year.

There, the project has been "very effective," Colosimo said. "It removes them (students) from their friends and they don't like it."

Echoing the school officials, Aurora Aguilar, a community activist and the parent of two high school students, said she favored the program.

"Anything that will keep kids off the streets is a benefit," she said. "A lot of kids don't want to go to school. When they're suspended and sent home, that's what they want."

Shouldn't Be Baby Sitter

However, Aguilar said, "If it's going to be a baby-sitting program, it will be a waste of time for the children and the community because the students aren't going to achieve or get anything out of it.

"But if it is going to be meaningful, if they are going to keep up with the curriculum and they don't get mediocre teachers to man the program, I think it will be good."

Under the program, which will cost $5,000 and run for 65 days until the end of the school year, the students' regular classroom teachers assign the work.

A different teacher conducts the sessions in a classroom each period, receiving a stipend for teaching during a preparation period, Nolin said. If there are no teachers or substitutes available, administrators and counselors teach the classes, he said.

At El Rancho High School, "We were losing money, we were losing kids and parents were getting upset," said Ramirez, who has been on the board since 1976.

Ramirez said Monday that after serving on the district's expulsion committee for the past four years he had concluded that "something was wrong.

The suspensions and expulsions, he said, served no purpose and offered no discipline for the students.

Under the suspension program, he said, "the kids will be taught a lesson--in math and other subjects--instead of being out on the street.

District, Pupils Benefit

"I think in the long run the kids are going to be better off. The parents will be happier because the lack of supervision won't be there. The child is going to get an education and the district will have ADA."

At the high school, the number of days spent in the detention class will be determined individually, depending on the infraction and number of times it was committed, officials said.

Although the program is a first for the high school, other districts in the state have similar suspension programs, according to Susan Lange, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

"Instead of suspending them, they are keeping them in school," she said. "Having kids not at school is not a solution to their school problems. They need to be there and they need to be learning, otherwise we're exacerbating the problems.

"Schools are coming up with creative programs," she said. "If they're able to be on their toes and and get appropriate work for students, the programs can be really useful."

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