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Green Bay Area School District responds to call for new discipline guidelines


GREEN BAY, WI (WTAQ) - The Obama administration is asking schools nationwide to drop "zero tolerance" discipline policies in order to avoid discriminating against minority students.

But officials with the Green Bay Area Public School District say it wouldn't affect them.

"First of all, we do not have zero tolerance policies because we don't believe zero tolerance works," says Director of Pupil Services Barbara Dorff. "We try to look at individual situations, and give students a second chance or third chance if needed."

Dorff touted the district's Alternative Behavior Program.

"Where students do something that might get them expelled in another district, we have some special schools they go to and they can continue with their education until they're ready to go back to their regular placement," Dorff says.

On Wednesday, a wide-ranging series of guidelines were issued informing school districts that they must adhere to the principal of fairness and equity in student discipline or run the risk of strong action. 

"A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal's office, not in a police precinct," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The alternative program at the Green Bay Area Public School District appears to already fall in-line with that thinking. If a student were to get in trouble, Dorff says the following would happen:

"We would provide a consequence, which would be a suspension, and then we would provide support in the form of an assessment and try to get some counseling for the student," Dorff says. "If there are multiple offenses and they're just not learning, we're going to move them to an alternative program. But we still would most likely not expel and deny them their education; we would try to make them better."

Another issue raised is the proportion of minority students falling under school discipline as compared with the general population. Government civil rights data from 2011-2012 show black students without disabilities were more than three times as likely as whites to be expelled or suspended. 

Out of the 1,181 students suspended by Green Bay schools during the 2011-12 school year, 747 of them were minorities, including blacks, Hispanics and Native American students. 434 were white students.

Dorff indicates that while the disproportion of minority students getting in trouble is a concern, the district doesn't look at race as a determining factor when it comes to discipline.

"So if someone is in trouble, be it a Hispanic, black and white student, those three students are going to be treated the same way based on the incident," said Dorff. "The numbers are about the same, however because we have a lower number of minority students, percentage-wise the numbers are higher."

The other recommendations laid out by the Obama administration are:

  • Ensure that school personnel understand that they are responsible for administering routine student discipline instead of security or police officers.
  • Draw clear distinctions about the responsibilities of school security personnel
  • Provide opportunities for school security officers to develop relationships with students and parents.

Dorff added that despite some language barriers with minority students, they believe officials have developed a great relationship with students and parents. The use of several interpreters also can help bridge the gap between cultures and reaching out to troubled kids.