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Schools to review discipline policy after pencil suspensions

Published 11:37pm Thursday, May 9, 2013

Suffolk Public Schools officials will revisit the district’s discipline policy after two boys were suspended for pretending to shoot one another with pencils.

Following public outcry and intense media attention since the suspensions were first reported earlier this week, missteps were acknowledged by Superintendent Deran Whitney and others at Thursday’s School Board meeting.

“I think some mistakes have been made,” Whitney said. “Things could have been handled differently.”

The 7-year-old Driver Elementary School students were suspended for two days before returning to class Wednesday.

By the end of Tuesday, administrators had received more than 90 emails and phone calls about the incident, and the school had received more than 200 emails and about 75 phone calls per hour on that day, district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw stated.

Whitney said during the School Board meeting that “a conversation is already beginning” with administrators to let them know they have “latitude” in applying the discipline policy.

Board members voted to allow a “small committee” to review the policy and report back in June.

“Principals have leverage to make decisions,” Enoch Copeland said.

Linda Bouchard encouraged aggrieved parents to appeal to the Pupil Personnel Committee. “Any time when there’s a concern, you have the right to appeal,” she said. “There is an appeal process and we work on that constantly.”

Last Friday’s was not the first such incident in a Suffolk public school to attract a suspension. For instance, a Kilby Shores Elementary student was suspended in April 2012 after using a hand gesture to pretend to shoot his teacher. The committee overturned the punishment after his mother appealed.

Addressing Thursday’s School Board meeting as a citizen, former member Thelma Hinton called for “common sense.”

“I have great compassion for children of all races and it just bothers me to see that this policy is targeting babies,” she said, adding, “We cannot treat the young children as we would the high school children.”

She referred to another incident at Driver Elementary in which an 11-year-old boy was recommend for expulsion after allegedly bringing marijuana to school and telling police he did so to stop his father from using it. He was ultimately transferred to an alternative program outside Driver Elementary.

“He should have been the hero because he said that something was wrong, but to punish the young man I thought was a little bit harsh,” Hinton said.

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