It looks like new and old Wake County school board members have found common ground when it comes to calling for a review of the district's zero tolerance discipline policies.
As noted in today's article, Keith Sutton and John Tedesco are among the board members who think that zero tolerance is resulting in too many suspensions and keeping too many students out of school. They're calling for a review that school board chairman Ron Margiotta agrees is needed.
"We have a very strong majority that wants to review the old policies for changes, including those on discipline," Margiotta said.
To show how serious he is about the issue, Margiotta said he spent part of his Christmas week up in northern New Jersey talking with school superintendents about how they handle discipline issues.
Sutton wants a 60- to 90-day suspension of zero tolerance policies while a review is conducted.
Tedesco wants to form a task force that would review the discipline policies.
Wake suspends a lot of students. In the 2008-09 school year, 20,686 short-term suspensions and 1,021 long-term suspensions were issued.
You'll notice that non-compliance and fighting account for many of the short-term suspensions. Drug and alcohol possession and fighting account for many of the long-term suspensions.
Both Sutton and Tedesco say some of the problems can come when low-income students are assigned to more affluent schools where teachers aren't sure how to deal with them. Tedesco says it's a reason why community schools would work. Sutton said teachers need better training while keeping the diversity policy.
Wake's suspension policies have been an issue for years in the African American community because so many black students are suspended.
One of the complaints is that Wake considers a long-term suspension to run through the whole school year. State law says it can run anywhere from 11 days to the end of the school year.
Langberg complained that the old school board "rubber stamped" staff recommendations for long-term suspensions at appeal hearings.
Tedesco said he and the other new board members have been trying to find ways at the appeal hearings to keep students in school instead of sending them on the street.
A "hypothetical" example Tedesco gave is how policy automatically calls for long-term suspension for a student who is found possessing drugs or alcohol more than once. Those students would normally not be able to get placement in an alternative school.
Tedesco said in that kind of a situation they'd try to get the student placed in an alternative school or other environment to get an education.
"Don't kick the kid out or you're going to have him doing drugs every day and probably becoming a drug dealer," Tedesco said.
Both Tedesco and Sutton have a background working with at-risk young people. Tedesco works with Big Brothers Big Sisters while Sutton works for the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Sutton also used to be an advocate for students at suspension hearings when he was president of the Triangle Urban League.
"It's not being soft on crime," Sutton said. "It's thinking outside the box and being creative."