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Syracuse school district combating high student suspension rate

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Last year, students suspended from the Syracuse City School District lost 23,555 days of instruction, and 55 percent of African-American students in the district have been suspended at least once. Those are some of the sobering statistics from a nationally known expert on school suspensions who reported on the state of suspensions in the district for the Board of Education last night.

Lekia Hill of the Alliance for Quality Education says the statistics are disturbing, especially when many of these suspensions are for minor infractions.

"There are stories like students being suspended for tapping their pencils on their desk when a teacher has asked them to be quiet and not make any noise," Hill said. "There are stories where students maybe they have one fight in school and their told they can't come back, and they do a program from three to five when school is over. They're given a packet and told to do the work and they don't know what to do."

Hill also says every option besides suspension should be explored.

"Clearly that is not the answer," Hill said. "Students should be in school learning. There are other alternatives and we want to make sure they receive those."

There have been programs that have worked in other schools around the country. The school board and the district say they are looking at ways to deal with the chronic problem. District spokesman Brandan Keavany says the district will be revising due process at the schools and reconvening the code of conduct task force.

"The code of conduct task force looks at all that the state stipulates that need to be the code of conduct as far as acceptable and unacceptable behaviors," Keavany said. "But it also goes beyond that in prescribing certain discipline or behavioral correction measures."

He expects specific recommendations from that group before the end of the year.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.