1. Archive

Contracts for kids

School is out for the summer, but some Hillsborough County school administrators have some summertime studying to do.

Some high school principals, looking for ways to deal with troublesome students, have been employing a system of contracts. Under that system, a student, his or her parents and the school administration sign a contract detailing what is expected of that student. If students don't live up to the contract, in some cases, they may be withdrawn from school.

A representative of the NAACP has challenged that portion of the contract system, saying it can be used as a "back door method to push kids out of school." School administrators promised to review the contract policy over the summer and make recommendations before the start of the next school year.

In principle, Hillsborough's contract system is a good idea. The students involved are all 16 or older _ thus beyond the age of compulsory attendance _ and all apparently have poor attendance and/or behavior records. The contract is a way of getting students' and parents' attention and correcting those problems.

NAACP education committee chair Helen LaCount has an understandable concern that some students and parents believe the contracts are binding documents and that students who don't live up to the contract have no choice but to leave school.

Actually, the school system has a method by which students who are disruptive or cause severe problems can be removed. That expulsion system is time-consuming and cumbersome _ requiring approval by the School Board _ so principals seldom resort to it.

LaCount says the contracts give principals a way around the expulsion system. In some cases, that may be true. Because records of such actions are kept confidential by school principals, it is hard to tell how often this practice has been used.

School Superintendent Walter Sickles has formed a committee to evaluate the contract system and make recommendations. He says he wants to keep the positive aspects of the system "without violating our board policy or the state law."

Principals need to be free to find creative solutions to their discipline problems. Contracts are a tool they should be able to use. But parents and students need to know their rights under these contracts, as well as their responsibilities.