NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

March 23, 2012

The realities of keeping today's students in school

The Massachusetts Joint Education Committee reported favorably Tuesday on a House bill to keep students in school. Proponents have been lobbying for the measure for some three years.

For the record, steps relating to in-school disciplines regarding exclusions of students needed redressing, and the favorable action Tuesday is being heralded as a step forward.

I didn't have a clue about any of this until earlier this month when I chatted with Hay Street neighbor Tom Mela of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and learned what a coalition of Massachusetts lawyers and advocates from legal aid and public interest agencies did. They've been deeply involved for three years with problems relating to a steady rise of student exclusions from public schools.

That conversation led me to 40 pages of reference materials and a heightened appreciation for what has become a deteriorating educational reality — the increase of student exclusions from schools for 10 days or more.

According to a summary of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, exclusions in Massachusetts schools have increased dramatically.

There were 1,949 incidents resulting in exclusion of 10 days or more during the 2002-2003 school year and 3,375 incidents of 10 days or more in the 2008-2009 school year.

The summary also reports that 50 percent of the exclusions were of special needs students, 17 percent were African-American students (eight percent of the student population) and 25 percent were exclusions of Hispanic students (14 percent of the student population).

(For those tracking the related bills, the Joint Education Committee's action on Tuesday will result in a new number designation to proceed from the original House Bill H.178 with the addition of language taken from H. 177 as it relates to school discipline data and significant numbers of school exclusions.)

I couldn't help comparing the now of "exclusions" with the realities of my own distant past.

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