Keep them learning

Published 4:02 am Sunday, February 15, 2009

By Staff
The North Carolina Court of Appeals should back the right of two suspended Southside High School students to an education, but it shouldn’t say how the Beaufort County school system ought to provide it.
The case stems from the suspension of the girls after a fight at the school in January 2008. They were suspended for the rest of the school year, and they weren’t offered a chance to receive instruction provided by the school system anywhere else.
That’s not so much a suspension as it’s a de-facto expulsion.
The solution, when dealing with troubled or contrary students, isn’t absolute isolation from structure and self-improvement. Sure, the students should be punished, but they shouldn’t be deprived of their rights and their futures. It’s beneficial to society that these students be kept learning and, eventually, become productive learners, not wind up in the county jail.
Students receiving long suspensions won’t be angels to deal with, but they need to be engaged anyway.
We hope the court will allow school systems significant freedom in determining how to engage them.
The girls from Southside aren’t arguing, in their lawsuit now before the court, that they were entitled to any specific form of schooling, only that they should have had schooling of some sort.
Across the state, school systems use all sorts of different means to teach suspended students. Some have teachers meet with students in libraries or at home. Others use online instruction, or they hold evening classes in school buildings. Many have alternative schools like the Ed Tech Center here in Beaufort County.
If the court mandates a specific type of instruction, it will be offering a standardized cure to all of the more than 100 wildly varying school systems in the state.
The Wake County school system has different resources and different burdens than the Beaufort County school system. Both systems are feeling pressed by budget constraints, and no standardized solution is likely to work well in both counties.
A mandatory solution would remove some of suspensions’ deterrent power, turning them, conceivably, into something more like mandatory school reassignment.
The ability of administrators to gauge the challenges posed, not just by their school systems, but also by the youngsters in question, allows for more effective punishments, leading, we hope, to better behavior and more students learning in regular schools.