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Board expands program for suspended students

What do you do with students bad enough to get suspended?

You don't want their behavior rubbing off on other students, some say. Besides, many are dangerous and disruptive.

"I don't want these youngsters in the regular classroom," said board member Corinne Freeman.

But what happens when they're not in school? They're committing crimes and becoming victims of crime, according to Judge Dee Anna Farnell, who spoke Tuesday at a School Board meeting. Alternative programs are needed, she said.

Later, the School Board took steps to expand some programs for suspended students.

They also agreed they have a long way to go.

If all Pinellas students who were charged with felonies were suspended for 10 days _ a new option the School Board has approved _ the school district would have to provide a building the size of a high school to fit all the kids.

That's because 2,065 Pinellas County youths were arrested on felony charges in 1993-1994. The district has estimated that about 500 of those students could be suspended at any one time. That's the number of students the alternative school would have to hold. It would cost about $3.7-million to staff and set up, according to district estimates.

"That data alone is enough to support five times these options," Hinesley said, referring to an expansion of alternative programs to board passed Tuesday. "We need some options for these multiple offenders."

That doesn't include all students who are suspended for other reasons.

The district can't afford accommodating them all, especially in hard budget times.

"We have to put our dollars in education," said board member Andrea Thacker. "We cannot do it all."

But Tuesday, board members took another step toward finding a place for disruptive students. They agreed to expand and redesign the district's dropout and discipline programs.

The Delta program, now at Seminole Vocational Center for elementary and middle schoolers, will be moved to an elementary school and will serve only elementary pupils. This plan puts students in small, controlled classes and works on behavior as well as academics.

The Intensive Behavior Improvement System run from Safety Harbor and St. Petersburg's North Ward schools will serve only middle schoolers now. That way, students of the same age will be taught together. Ninth-graders will use one of the high school programs.

The PTEC campus in St. Petersburg and perhaps the campus near Largo will be the sites for a new program directed at high school students. Students in the program will not mingle with PTEC students or be able to take PTEC vocational courses until they demonstrate good behavior.

The other program will be run in cooperation with the University of South Florida and the Florida Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Non-Violence on USF's campus in St. Petersburg. That program will help teach children leadership skills and how to resolve conflicts.