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Dealing with disruptions

March 24, 2005

Concerned by the fact that nearly one of every 10 West Virginia students was suspended from school in 2004, state lawmakers are looking at ways to keep such students in the classroom.

House Bill 3077 would create special classrooms in every school as an alternative to sending disruptive students home. Despite the expense, we support the idea, for two reasons.

The first is that students who are already having difficulty because of their behavior will be that much further behind their classmates when they return.

And as one of the bill's co-sponsors, Del. Sharon Spencer, D-Kanawha, said, parents who are struggling to put food on the table can't afford to take time off from work to watch their children.

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A disruptive child left to his or her own devices is likely to get into more trouble than one who is supervised.

If lawmakers are looking for a model program, they can find one across the Potomac River in Washington County, where Antietam Academy has been set up on the campus of South Hagerstown High School.

In February, School Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the school was serving 84 students whose behavior disturbs other students or teachers or who have other learning disabilities.

The school has smaller classrooms and mental-health professionals on hand to deal with crises that occur.

At least 39 West Virginia counties already have alternative learning centers that serve more than 4,000 students, according to state figures provided to The Associated Press.

But Spencer said these programs are mostly punitive and do nothing to modify students' behavior.

If so, that's not acceptable. Research shows that students who do not finish high school are more likely to remain in poverty for the rest of their lives and require more taxpayer-funded services.

Families should do this job, but if the alternative is not getting it done at all, alternative classrooms make sense.

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