LORAIN – Newly elected school board member Paul Biber said he foresees suspensions for 500 to 1,000 students during the first six months of next year for repeated truancy, tardiness and other non-criminal infractions.
Biber, who takes office in January, said there are that many students who frequently violate the rules at school but go unpunished because the current school board has created a climate where principals are afraid their contracts won`t be renewed if they have too many suspensions.
Even when suspensions are issued, they almost always are overturned by the school board when parents challenge them, Biber said.
Biber, who taught in the Lorain Schools at the high school level for 36 years before retiring last June, said that over the last several years, frustrated principals and teachers have stopped enforcing the rules, and students have been taking advantage of the lack of structure.
“These people are placed in a no-win decision,” he said. “What we have now is civil disobedience with no purpose. And what they`re learning is that it`s OK to be late and it`s OK not to show up for work.”
Biber and the two other new school board members who were elected, Jim Smith and Tony Dimacchia, said they will make their support of enforcement known to all principals and staff, as well as to Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, who was hired over the summer.
“Sure, it may affect attendance and graduation rate, and that`s not good. But no matter what else we do, we have to have kids behaving in a way they can learn,” he said.
Smith and Dimacchia both said Thursday that they agree that something needed to be done.
Smith said he had heard there was an issue with the school board overturning suspensions, and he plans to end it when he takes his seat in two months.
“I remember when the principal`s word was law,” said Smith, 69. “Whatever consequences the principal made were backed up, and, from now on, any principal enforcing school policy will be backed up by me at the board level.”
Dimacchia said that while suspensions might seem harsh, he`d rather see students following the rules.
“My feeling is that the discipline policy is in place, and people are supposed to be enforcing it,” he said.Â “I don`t like to see students suspended or expelled, but if that`s what we have to do, then that`s it.”
Biber said voters clearly support the measure, given that this was his main campaign issue and he was the highest vote getter in his race. He said that while it might not be the most pressing issue facing the district – its finances caused more than 200 teachers to be laid off – it will be the easiest to fix.
Atkinson said she supports the new board members` agenda and will do everything she can to ensure the rules are enforced.
“I can`t speak to what any past administration did, but in December, we`ll be having a meeting with principals to discuss issues about student management, discipline and overall we`ll be gathering a lot of information about the way things are run,” she said.
She said she also expects a rise in discipline next year as a result, but she also said she assumes that number will come down.
“And that doesn`t mean we`ll be suspending everyone, because we`ll probably need a combination of traditional and alternative programs to enforce the rules,” she said. “Behavior problems sometimes have more to do with frustrations, and that`s mostly due to a lack of academic achievement, so we need to find ways to address that.”