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Effective New School Program Gives Parents a Classroom Assignment--Spending a Day Beside Their Errant Offspring

May 31, 1987|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURG, Calif. — "It was humiliating . . . seriously," groaned Holly Everts, describing what happened when she was suspended from Hillview Junior High School here earlier this year.

Instead of being banished from school--or as some kids say, instead of being invited to ditch school legally--Everts had to bring her mother with her to class for the day. And afterward, her mother threatened that if this ever happened again, she would personally demonstrate to both her daughter and to the entire student body the true meaning of the word humiliating.

"She said to me, 'If you do this again, I'll show you humiliating. I'll come to school with you and I'll have rollers in my hair. I'll wear my bathrobe and my house slippers. And I'll sit in class next to you and pick my nose,' " the seventh-grader recalled.

Needless to say, Holly Everts has not been suspended from school since and she's confident her mother's lounging ensemble will be modeled exclusively in their home.

Mom learned a few things, too. Said Diane Everts: "I have a lot more empathy for the teachers. Holly's classes don't seem very structured compared to when I went to school. It seemed like there was more chaos and confusion. It was sort of like a free-for-all. I read one of the notes that somebody slipped to Holly during class. It said, 'How's life in the embarrassing lane?' "

Welcome to junior high school discipline, circa 1987, a time when principals throughout the country are resorting to innovative and provocative means to cope with students born during the infamous "Me Decade."

Hillview is just one of about 700 to 800 schools in the United states that have adopted variations on the face-suspension-or-bring-your-parent-to-class theme pioneered last year at Wilson Junior High School in Hamilton, Ohio.

But few schools have had results as dramatic as those at Hillview in Pittsburg, a city of about 40,000 located northeast of Oakland. Here, suspensions have decreased from as many as 25 on a bad day, to about six or seven a day. (In Ohio, when John Lazares instituted the program after becoming Wilson's principal in January of 1986, the school was issuing three to five suspensions per day. Now, he said by telephone, "we sometimes go two or three days without suspending anybody.")

At Hillview, where 65% of the students are members of minority groups, the idea was implemented last February--shortly after Principal Bob Guthrie read a blurb about the Ohio school's program in Parade magazine.

"I was desperate," he explained. "On some days, we were suspending 20 to 25 students out of 830, giving them one- to two-day suspensions. We had a lot of kids who ignored the idea of being suspended from school. We were giving an average of 100 to 120 tardy slips a day. We'd ring a bell and have students still standing in the hall. We tried a tardy lockout, in which late students would be locked out of class and would have to report to the office and then be assigned detention after school. They wouldn't stay for detention after school.

Wanted to Be Suspended

"We'd call the students in and ask them why they didn't go to detention and they'd say, 'I want to be suspended. I didn't feel like staying for detention.' Sometimes they'd say, 'Thank you, Mr. Guthrie. I need a couple of days off.' "

Guthrie, who will complete his third year as principal when the school year ends in late June, didn't think twice about possible criticism for having parents attend classes with their children. "I thought, 'What have we got to lose?' I was pretty frustrated. These kids were flying high and somebody needed to clip their wings."

The results speak for themselves. Guthrie said suspensions have decreased by an average of 60% (70% in April, before the weather got warmer and the kids got looser). The issuing of tardy slips has similarly declined from about 100 to 120 per day to nine or 10.

"The last time we checked before Easter, 48 of 50 students who had their parents come to school with them had not returned to the office (for behavior infractions). But it's not 100%. Like all schools, we have a number of students who are out of control at home. The parents openly admit they can't control their children. Sometimes, the kids are much bigger than their parents. And many of these parents will not come in with their children to school."

(In that case, at Hillview, the student is suspended from school in the traditional manner. When parents spend a day at school, the suspension is removed from the student's record.)

As many parents or teachers of junior high school-age (about 11 to 14) students will readily attest, kids at this stage often don't even want to admit they have parents. And, as Guthrie expected, his charges were deeply mortified at the prospect of having their mothers or fathers observing them nonstop for an entire day in an arena generally off-limits to parents.

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