There's been a whole lot of talk lately about the number of suspensions in Buffalo and the push -- from the community and from central office -- to reduce that number.
One thing that's been largely overlooked -- but merits some attention -- is what happens when students are suspended.
After Jawaan Daniels' death in June 2010, former Superintendent James Williams announced an end to out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions. It turned out that what he meant was that he was going to change the way suspended students received their state-mandated instruction.
The law requires that suspended students receive two hours of instruction every day.
Until September 2010, suspended students in Buffalo were supposed to get "home instruction," meaning a teacher met them at a library or community center to teach them for two hours a day.
But district administrators readily admit that that generally wasn't happening.
The bottom line was that many -- maybe most -- suspended students just were not getting any instruction while they were suspended.
The big change in 2010 was that suspended students started reporting to their school for two hours a day for what's known as alternative instruction.
High school students report from about 3 to 5 p.m. for alternative instruction. Elementary students report for two hours either in the morning or afternoon, during the school day.
Well, guess what? Many of them are not coming.
Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes estimates that 50 to 75 percent of students are showing up for alternative instruction. (Although some teachers I know peg that percentage quite a bit lower than that.)
Surely, there are many factors that play into the low attendance.
Many parents say the setup is unrealistic.
Elementary students who are suspended are not given transportation to or from their alternative instruction -- something district administrators acknowledge is an issue.
"People understand that the alternative instruction is a requirement," Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes said. "The district must do that to be complaint with state education law. But there is no requirement that the district provide transportation."
Suspended high school students, he says, can use their Metro pass to get to alternative instruction. Not so for elementary students, for whom the district does not provide a way of getting to alternative instruction.
"The issue is at elementary school," he said. "Parents need to bring the students and pick them up. That’s an untenable challenge for some of our families."
That is likely to be among the issues the district's advisory committee will review when it crafts policy recommendations for the School Board in February.
- Mary Pasciak