Debate Heats Up Over an Alternative School

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During the 2004 – 2005 year in the Rockford Public School District, about 70 students have been expelled. Most of the expulsions involve a student bringing a weapon or drugs to school. Others are kicked out due to violence or gang activity, but getting expelled means that they have no option to continue learning.

But the district is exploring an Alternative Discipline School. At an education meeting Tuesday night, many weighed in on the pros and cons of this option.

It's a packed house to discuss how to deal with repeat behavior offenders. On the table is a proposal for an Alternative School at Wilson. A maximum of 150 middle and high school students would have to violate the discipline code. Points would be awarded each time a student violates the rules. A principal must refer students for an involuntary transfer to the Alternative School when they get 150 points. Students would attend the school for about a month but some questioned if that is long enough to see a change?

Jeanne Westholder says, “The 30 days to one semester is too short. I think people would find more comfort if that was extended to a year."

For the most part, the idea itself is supported but board member Mike Williams says there's no research to support the concept.

Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson says, "The street is not a learning environment.”

Williams bounced back with, “This alternative school is a soft jail."

The 2 hour meeting got a little heated as Williams and Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson went back and forth. Williams says the school does not address the student’s issues.

Williams tells 23 News, "We should look at the profile of each student. This proposal does not include an assessment. So how do we know what they need? This is clearly going to be a dumping ground."

But Dr. Thompson says the Alternative School is the only alternative they have to get students off the streets.

Thompson says, "There's going to be some growing that needs to be done. For those that say I am in a hurry you bet I am. Everyday that goes by in a kid’s life is a big difference."

Some educators that were in attendance say parents of these “problem children” are begging for help. They say something has to be done to stop all the classroom interruptions.

One principal who has worked at an Alternative School in Boston had this to say. Ellis Principal Patrick Hardy said, "In the meantime board members I gotta go back to Ellis and put together an expulsion packet because your discipline code says I have to recommend a kindergartner for expulsion. So you all keep on talkin’, keep on sittin’ and keep on philosophizing while I keep throwing kids out of school with no place to go."

The alternative school proposal got sent back to the Discipline Committee. Those with questions hope a re-vamped proposal will come before the board. Dr. Thompson will also be making his own proposal.