Kiichiro Sato/AP

Jacksonville Delays Opening Its Centers for Suspended Students

January 13, 2009 07:28 AM
by Christopher Coats
A Jacksonville, Fla., program to keep suspended students out of trouble by placing them in “suspension centers” during their days off has been halted by the city over budget and transportation concerns.

An Alternative to “Short Vacations”

Present in parts of Florida since 2006 and New York since 2004, centers for suspended students have been opened to provide monitored and supportive surroundings for students who have been removed from traditional classrooms.

The facilities are intended to reduce the chance that students are left unattended and free to get into more trouble.

“Some educators say suspension sometimes turns into a short vacation for trouble-making students, who then are free to get into more mischief,” reported the Miami Herald shortly before the centers were opened in 2006.

However, the proposed centers in Jacksonville were scrapped from the city budget after questions arose surrounding the use of the requested $1.5 million in funding and doubts about how the students would get to and from the center each day.

Conceived as a part of a broad anti-crime effort called the Jacksonville Journey, the centers were to be located in 12 locations across the county and were scheduled to open next week.

Supporters of the centers have also proposed that they may be used to help cut down on absenteeism by hosting truant students.

“While we are keeping them off the streets and out of trouble at these centers, we can provide them with the counseling and education that they need,” wrote Ed Pratt-Dannals in the Jacksonville Business Journal, defending the funding of the suspension centers.

The growth in the number of centers nationwide has coincided with a surge in out-of-school suspensions in the last decade.

“The major reasons offered by principals for such suspensions are fighting, students’ use of profanity, disrespect toward school staff, and violation of Zero Tolerance Policies,” reported, noting that there was no evidence to suggest the out-of-school suspensions had resulted in a decrease in poor student behavior.

Rather than acting as a holding tank for students, the centers have also been outfitted to provide academic and behavioral help from education professionals, leading to the complaint lodged against the proposed Jacksonville centers.

The city’s Grant Review Committee, which is charged with approving the program, lodged a complaint regarding the $190,000 set aside for infrastructure repairs intended to provide computer access to the centers, stating that it had not been a part of the original proposal.

The grant committee also cited the lack of transportation to and from the centers as a reason for delaying the opening of the program.

Background: No stranger to controversy

Although the construction of similar centers has increased in recent years—as more and more suspended students have been found to cause trouble on their days out of the classroom—the centers have not been free from criticism from local communities.

In 2007, parents in a Brooklyn, N.Y., school district protested the placement of a suspension center inside of an existing middle school due to a lack of available space.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” PTA member and parent James Harris told The Brooklyn Paper. “On May 12, on my son’s way home from school, he was attacked by five kids and beaten up. … I heard the nonsense that the suspended students will be separated [from the general school population]. What will you do, helicopter them in and out?”

In North Carolina, a similar program received criticism from the Department of Public Safety after Durham Public Schools announced that the centers would be controlled by the schools but not hosted in district buildings.

“Such an arrangement would have increased student liability concerns,” reported the News Observer in September 2008.

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