Originally created 04/24/98

Legislator eyes camps for pupils



COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- The state has boot camps for first-time drug offenders, but now one Democratic gubernatorial hopeful wants them for ill-behaving students.

Secretary of State Lewis Massey told a Georgia Association of State School Superintendents conference Thursday the state should greatly increase spending on alternative schools and open boot camps for disruptive students. He also favors a one-year suspension for children who bring drugs to school or join gangs, and paying $100 to children who report on-campus firearms to principals.

"It is just this simple. Teachers can't teach and students can't learn in schools where drugs and gangs and violence run rampant," Mr. Massey told administrators attending the conference.

"When I see the evening news or read the newspapers, the school days I remember when I was growing up seem from another century," said the 35-year-old Democrat.

Educators and parents rank improved classroom discipline near the top of their priority list.

"For students who are troubled and prone to violence, we know that a brief suspension is no solution," he said. "Too often they are sent home to an empty home, where only more trouble awaits. What these kids need is more structure and supervision, not less."

Instead of suspending children, Mr. Massey wants them in boot camps designed to provide hard work, discipline and counseling.

"Some will say sending troubled students into a boot-camp environment is harsh and insensitive," he said. "I say it's far more cruel to give up on young troublemakers with suspensions or expulsions and send them to the streets, where drugs and violence reign."

Barbara Christmas, director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, liked some of Mr. Massey's proposals.

"The boot camps are a wonderful idea for the short-term suspension," she said. "What these kids need is structure and discipline."

However, Ms. Christmas and other educators wonder if Mr. Massey's plans will conflict with federal regulations regarding the handling of students in special education programs.

There were about 133,000 Georgia children in the program for students with special needs last year, such as those with physical or emotional handicaps.

Mr. Massey also vowed increased support for alternative schools.

Dropouts or chronically disruptive students in grade 6-12 are placed in alternative schools designed to handle problem children. Students stay in the schools for a minimum of one quarter before going back to their regular classrooms after meeting specific behavior goals.

The latest count for the 1997-98 school year shows 5,606 children were in alternative schools. About $13.5 million was budgeted for the program this year.

Another Democratic hopeful, Rep. Roy Barnes, who also spoke to the superintendents' group, advocates putting alternative schools in every district. He's opposing Mr. Massey for the gubernatorial nomination.

"There are a few disruptive students in the schools. You have to have some alternative way to deal with those students so that the other children can learn," Mr. Barnes said.

The Mableton lawmaker wants to couple increased support for alternative sites with after-school programs aimed especially at children who are behind in their classwork. And he wants a 10 p.m. curfew for students on school nights in hopes of keeping them out of late-night trouble.