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Suspended students may be put to work

Parents whose children face out-of-school suspension often ask principals for alternatives, because suspending a student can be like giving him a day off.

Most working parents can't sit home on a weekday and watch their kids, who wind up in front of the TV all day or hanging out at the mall or around the neighborhood.

Hudson High and Middle schools are about to offer an alternative that requires both school work and community service. The School Board on Tuesday night approved plans for a partnership between the schools, the Shady Hills United Methodist Church and the non-profit Great American Wagon Train. The program is being funded through a grant that the church received for community projects.

Instead of being booted out of school for one to 10 days, depending on the infraction, students whose parents give approval will go to an alternative program housed at the church. The idea is to force kids to keep up with class work, but also get them away from the school for time to cool off.

"We have parents who are always asking us for an alternative to out-of-school suspension," said Art O'Donnell, principal of Hudson High. "I think this is an opportunity in that regard. I'm hoping parents will take advantage of it."

The program has room for five kids each day from the two schools, which ought to handle the load of youngsters facing out-of-school suspensions, said Alex Weinberger, a supervisor of student services.

"The intent, of course, is to decrease suspensions," Weinberger said. "This will not be a real pleasant experience for kids. This will be an alternative to sitting at home watching TV or playing Nintendo or out on the streets."

Youngsters will have three hours of schoolwork and then will spend their time landscaping, painting, cleaning up and doing other odd jobs for west Pasco charitable organizations.

Students will be picked up at 8 a.m. at school and taken to the church. Parents will be responsible for picking up kids at 5 p.m. at the church _ making for a longer day than the students usually have in school.

"It may not work for the chronic offender, but we think it will work for students who are having temporary problems," said Charles Petro, assistant principal at Hudson Middle School.

Last year in Pasco, there were 2,607 out-of-school suspensions at the middle schools and 4,013 at the high schools.

The idea for dealing with suspensions at Hudson area schools arose from a recent violence prevention workshop at Saddlebrook. A consortium of school officials, parents and community members has been working on ways to improve schools in Hudson and Shady Hills. Consortium members agreed that suspensions were a problem they wanted to tackle.

"I think the parents will take advantage of it," O'Donnell said of the new program.

The alternative program will allow students to receive credit for schoolwork. Students receive credit for work done the first time they have an out-of-school suspension, but not after that.

O'Donnell said that is a plus. Students with excessive absences, for whatever reason, aren't allowed to pass classes, according to the district's pupil progression plan.

That plan, which is updated annually, also was approved Tuesday by the School Board. The district is implementing more stringent standards for high school grading next school year under the plan. Students also will have to have a higher grade point average to participate in extracurricular activities.

The current eligibility is 1.5. It will rise this coming school year to 1.6, to 1.8 in 1997-98, and to 2.0 in 1998-99.

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