At most schools, a student caught fighting, committing vandalism or ditching classes usually ends up suspended. But in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, a student is likely to find himself attending more school, not less.
The district's new Saturday workshop program requires some troublesome students to stay in detention under a teacher's supervision from 8 a.m. to noon. Students study for two hours and then spend the rest of the time scrubbing desks, picking up trash, removing graffiti and performing other tasks.
"It solves a number of problems at once," said school board President Peggy Lyons. "Instead of sending the students home and possibly forcing their parents to take off from work, we provide a positive environment for those who need discipline."
In addition to providing a positive environment, the school board's decision Monday to institute Saturday detention was prompted by financial reasons.
The district receives $15 a day from the state for every student who attends school, but it does not receive any money for those who are suspended.
Ilene Straus, principal of Lincoln Middle School, said school officials issued 1,370 days of suspension last year to students, grades 6 through 12, for a variety of infractions. As a result, the district lost more than $20,000 in state funds.
Straus and other school administrators, including Jerry Kantor, principal of John Adams Middle School, persuaded the board to eliminate suspension for some offenses and use the money the district saved to fund the Saturday workshops.
The board agreed to set up a pilot program for sixth- through eighth-graders at John Adams and Lincoln middle schools. Students from Malibu Park and alternative schools will participate in the programs at Adams and Lincoln. Santa Monica High School is considering setting up its own program.
"We have some charismatic teachers lined up who want to take part in the program and will be good for the kids," Straus said, warning that it will not be fun and games. "That is not the intention."
School officials said the Saturday work-study program does not automatically eliminate suspensions, which will still be imposed on students who bring drugs or alcohol on campus.
"We are very excited about this program because it gives us another tool to use in providing discipline," Straus said.
Teachers participating in the program will be paid $22 an hour or $88 a day under an agreement worked out between the district and the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Assn., the union representing the district's teaching staff.
To be cost effective, the workshops will have a minimum number of six students, with a maximum number of 12. A phone is provided if parents have to be called for transportation home.
In the meantime, parents have been very supportive of the program.
"I think it is a great idea," said Ann Steinsapir, whose 11-year-old son attends Lincoln. "It is a much more positive way to deal with minor behavior problems. The worst thing to happen is to have them wandering the streets in the community (on suspension). They need a better environment, they need to be nurtured."