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Report says suspension of students increasing

Student suspensions in the state rose 15 percent in the 2000-01 school year, and a disproportionate number of them involved minority students, according to a new report from the Department of Education.

Springfield schools accounted for 29 percent of all suspensions, according to the latest report on student "exclusions" -- defined as the removal of a student for 10 consecutive days or more for disciplinary violations.

Springfield's 471 exclusions were more than double the number of suspensions in Boston, the next highest district with 194. Worcester had 106, Holyoke 87, Lowell 64, Lawrence 49, Revere 40, Quincy 28, Ware 24, and Barnstable 21 suspensions.

Statewide, 1,621 students were suspended, representing a 22-percent increase over a three-year period.

"Schools are being far less tolerant of disruptive behavior, which is what they should be doing," said Heidi Perlman, a Department of Education spokeswoman.

Springfield superintendent Joseph Burke agreed that schools have a "real low tolerance level" for bad behavior, but noted that 91 percent of his suspended students are transferred to alternative programs. That's higher than the 71 percent statewide.

"They're not being excluded from services," Burke said. "There are some kids who need a different setting, a different model."

Black and Latino students were five times more likely than white students to be suspended. White students made up 40 percent of suspensions and 76 percent of enrollment, while black and Latino students represented 57 percent of the suspensions, but just 20 percent of enrollment, the report said.

Perlman said suspensions are not based on race. "Students are excluded based on their behavior. That's a question that should be asked of the students."

Anne Wheelock, a researcher at Boston College's Lynch School of Education, called the increase "extraordinary" and said it was the highest in a decade.

"The increase is clearly steepest for the most vulnerable kids: minority kids, ninth-graders," Wheelock said. "We're talking, for the most part, about poor and urban minority kids."

Drug possession accounted for 25 percent of suspensions, followed by weapon possession (20 percent), assaults on school staff (13 percent), and assaults on students (9 percent). Another reason for the increase, Perlman said: "Schools are getting much better at reporting."

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