Lawrence schools already appear to practice much of what the Obama administration recommended last week in avoiding zero-tolerance disciplinary policies.
During a joint press conference with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder criticized zero-tolerance policies as increasing the likelihood for future contact between students and the justice system. A 35-page document was unveiled that outlined guidelines that include multiple efforts already underway in Lawrence.
Lawrence Public Schools — which does not have a zero-tolerance policy — has already begun to seek ways to reduce the time students spend out of school as punishment for infractions. Ron May, the district’s director of administration services, said elementary and middle schools have adopted positive behavioral support systems in recent years, an approach that encourages teachers to analyze and teach behavioral skills. In the process, May said, middle schools like Liberty Memorial Central have seen dips in office referrals of about 70 percent in the past year.
May, who also serves as the district’s suspension and expulsion officer, said the only factor leading to a long-term suspension or expulsion hearing has involved drugs, dangerous objects or weapons and criminal threats.
“We’re not going out of our way to try to find reasons to get rid of kids,” May said.
Students who are suspended, even for just a few days, can opt to continue their coursework in the district’s Suspension Alternative Program at the Lawrence Centennial School, 2145 Louisiana St.