EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 12, 2012

Mass. schools suspend thousands under 'zero-tolerance'

Kids as young as 4 losing school time

Click HERE to see the statistics.

Thousands of Massachusetts students were suspended from school during the 2009-2010 school year, many of them for offenses that included skipping class, tardiness and other minor infractions under "zero tolerance" discipline policies.

Locally, Lawrence handed out 1,445 out-of-school suspensions in 2009-2010. Haverhill recorded 681; Andover, 117; Methuen, 94; and North Andover, 80. All of those numbers were up significantly from two years earlier. (See accompanying chart.)

While data from the 2009-10 school year is the most recent available that includes a detailed breakdown of offenses, the troubling trend appears to have continued in 2010-11.

In-school and out-of-school suspensions in 2010-11 totaled more than 75,000, accounting for thousands of days of lost classroom time for students, many of whom are on the fringes of dropping out of school entirely, critics said.

Topping the list was Springfield, with more than 3,000 out-of-school suspensions during the 2010-2011 school year, followed by Boston, Lynn, Worcester and Brockton, each with more than 2,000, and Holyoke, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell and New Bedford, with more than 1,000 out-of-school suspensions each.

Yet of more concern for critics is the number of students who have lost class time for minor infractions.

The more detailed numbers available for 2009-10 indicate that, statewide, students lost almost 54,000 classroom days for offenses deemed to be non-violent and non-drug-related. That was more than the days lost by students charged with gun, alcohol, knife and explosive possession, sexual assault, theft, and vandalism combined, state data shows.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokesman J.C. Considine said the state considers school discipline a local matter. But it urges school districts "to offer some type of alternative education wherever possible" for suspended or expelled students. School districts are under no obligation to do so, however, and few actually do, education advocates say.

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