MARICOPA — School policies aim to keep kids in the classroom as much as possible, but when student behavior leaves them little choice, it takes some creativity to live up to that goal.
The Maricopa Unified School District last week introduced a proposal that would provide alternatives to long-term suspensions where students could still progress with their education in a place isolated from the rest of the student body.
Wade Watson, the district’s director of curriculum, said students who commit major infractions that would currently force them to miss either a semester or a full year of school could be eligible for an alternative if the plan is approved by the governing board.
Under the plan, when a student is recommended for a long-term suspension, the superintendent or a designated administrator would review the case to see if the student would be eligible for the alternative. If they are deemed eligible, they and a parent would have to sign a letter admitting guilt.
Should the student make it through that process, they would be assigned to a designated location with assigned coursework, with teachers monitoring progress. They will take core classes only, and will not receive transportation or be allowed to participate in any school functions, such as school lunches or games.
The courses would be taken via the school’s online program, much like Ram Academy.
Board member Patti Coutre raised concerns about the students’ ability to continue their education during in-school suspension, since they will be uprooted from their class in the middle of the year. She noted many of the students who are suspended do not have high GPA, and need teachers present who will be able to help them not fall even further behind.
“I don’t want them to get more frustrated,” Coutre said. “Because if that happens, they’ll just stop coming.”
Watson said the teachers monitoring the program at MHS will likely be a certified teacher from the Ram Academy alternative high school, while the middle school program will be staffed by classified staff with the regular check-in from certified teachers.
If everything is approved, Watson would like to start the alternative suspensions in January. There are still plenty of details to work out, such as the terms over attendance and class preparedness before a student is kicked out of the alternative suspension. There could also be a way to require community service in order to be accepted, with board members floating the idea of working with Municipal Judge Lyle Riggs on a program.
There was no vocal opposition from the governing board that this program should be implemented.
“I am excited that we are able to offer opportunities for all of our students to be successful,” said board member Torri Anderson. “I have been a proponent of an alternative program since I’ve been a teacher at the high school. We’re one of the few high school that don’t have an alternative program.”