A new program is having a huge impact on procedures for how out-of-school suspensions at Clay Community School Corporation operate.
Court Ordered Placement for Education (C.O.P.E.) is the newest tool used in student discipline.
"Suspending students out-of-school doesn't work," Northview High School Assistant Principal Lynn Romas said. "For many of the students, it was like a day off, they get to sleep in and watch television. Parents would always ask if there was something besides suspension and now there is."
The administrators at Northview High School, Clay City High School, Cumberland Academy, the Clay County Prosecutors Office, Clay Circuit Court Judge Joseph Trout and Clay Community Corrections teamed together to find an alternative for out-of-school suspension. According to Romas, the results speak for themselves.
"By the end of September 2008, there were 173 total days of out-of-school suspensions," he said. "By the end of September 2009, there were 61 total days of out-of-school suspensions."
The program is working as a deterrent for many of the students and Romas believes the numbers will continue to lower.
"The program is causing many of the students to think before they act," he said. "Many of them say, 'I'm not got to do that and go to C.O.P.E."
Instead of enjoying a few days in front of the TV, students are now going to court.
Students may be referred to the program through various violations, including:
*Insubordination or Defiance,
* Tobacco, and
*Theft or Destruction of Property.
After the student(s) appear before Romas for the infraction, the student(s) are then told to be with a parent/guardian before Judge Trout the next morning. At that time, documents are sent to Executive Director of Clay Community Corrections, Mary Brown, who then meets with Clay County Prosecutor Lee Reberger to file the appropriate court documents.
The next morning, the student(s) and the parent/guardian attend the hearing, where Trout reviews the case, speaks to student(s) during court and then orders them to any number of morning study sessions with afternoon community service work details. Students can receive anywhere from one to 10 days in the program and the parents/ guardians are required to pay $15 in court fees for every day the students are enrolled in the program. The money is used to pay for supervision and transportation.
Students are then required to spend the first half of each day at Cumberland Academy, where they are completing school assignments for full credit. Students are required to have all of their schoolbooks and materials when they arrive in the morning.
"I try to impress upon them they may have made a mistake or a bad decision to end up in C.O.P.E., but now they can learn from it and move on," C.O.P.E. Director and In School Suspension (I.S.S.) Supervisor Dana Bottomley said.
Bottomley makes sure students complete their assignments correctly. Students are not allowed to speak, except when asking a question pertaining to the assignment. There is no sleeping or passing of notes. Students cannot draw, unless it is for a class, or 'horseplay.' They are required to stay in their assigned seats and are given one bathroom break. The environment is structured and students learn the requirements the first day.
"These are good kids and they know the expectations," she said. "They don't go through the motions. If they have to do an assignment five times to get it right, then they will do it five times."
C.O.P.E. students are kept separate from the other students at Cumberland. Everyday after lunch, representatives from Community Corrections pick up the students and take them to different areas around the county to take part in community service.
One location students have visited includes the parks. Supt. of Parks Bill Houck hasn't had a problem with the students and believes the parks are only benefiting from the program.
"They are supervised so there is no burden on me," he said. "They have raked leaves, painted benches and prepared the picket fence to be painted."
The program is modeled after the Generating Responsibility Through an Alternative to Suspension Placement (G.R.A.S.P.) Program.
"We feel this is a very positive experience and the numbers show it," Brown said. "We have had no problems with the students and only two repeats. They are learning their actions have consequences."
Student(s) are given a cause number when entering the program. Upon completion of the program, the record is expunged through the courts and at the end of the school year, every student's record is cleared, and they can begin each new school year with a clean record.
"It all boils down to everyone wanting to help the students," Romas said. "Wanting to help kids, teach them to reach their goals and be productive members of society."
Everyone agreed the program has been nothing but beneficial to the development of the students and they are hoping for some decreases in other areas of juvenile delinquency.
"If they see the consequences for their actions now then maybe as they grow, they will see ahead to other consequences before they act," Romas said.
Once a student is assigned to the program, they have to stay in the program until completion. If they do not, the judge has the authority to hold them in contempt of court. Romas said even if the child were to transfer school districts or become home schooled, they would still be required to complete the program or the school would not release their records.
"I think this is a good dose of reality for a lot of the kids," Clay City High School Principal Jeff Bell said. "It is a great alternative to out-of-school suspension and it was definitely needed."
Northview High School Principal Tim Rayle echoed Bell's sentiments.
"We are very fortunate this is a great partnership and (Romas) is doing an excellent job," he said. "Students are now thinking before they act. It's no longer a vacation to them. They know if they get into trouble they will go to Judge Trout."
Though the program is being used within the schools, Romas said the handbook is still being followed and C.O.P.E. is used after all other avenues are exhausted or if the offense is illegal.
C.O.P.E. offers students a realistic experience when seeing their actions do have a penalty.
"This program adds an enlightening ingredient in the discipline program," Romas said. "It is offering a realistic view of the consequences to students misbehavior."