School tribunal offering options

A Morgan Road Middle School eighth-grader slugged it out with a classmate on a bus then turned and shoved the bus driver who wouldn't let him get off.

The push was so hard that the driver nearly lost his breath, according to a discipline report of the November incident.

A school tribunal found the 14-year-old guilty of violating Rule 4(B) of the Code of Student Conduct, the more severe of two rules against assaulting school personnel.

Earlier this school year, the student would have been suspended and banned from school campuses for the remainder of the year, no questions asked.

A recent change, however, is giving students the option of accepting an out-of-school suspension or serving the same amount of time at Bungalow Road Alternative School.

The Richmond County school system has been revising its tribunal process this school year. Among the changes was the option for students to stay in school rather than being kicked out.

"At no time should we have to choose between education and no education," Barbara Pulliam, the chairwoman of the school board's instruction committee, said in favor of the change.

"Don't get me wrong. I feel the student should be punished," she said.

But that's why Richmond County has an alternative school -- to serve students such as these, Mrs. Pulliam said.

"I just don't think zero education is the answer," she said. "I think that child should still be learning."

Students who choose not to be suspended must sign a contract agreeing to behave and follow the rules of the alternative school, as well as attend an orientation meeting at the school with a parent.

"I think by having a choice you're having more of an active involvement," board member Helen Minchew said. "I don't see many kids' parents choosing to have them suspended."

The alternative school has proven so successful in changing the behavior of students that some parents ask to keep their children there, she said.

"Sometimes kids need a wake-up experience," Mrs. Minchew said. "It's keeping them off the streets. It's giving them a chance to graduate."

In the 2007-08 school year, 17,731 suspensions were handed out in Richmond County, according to The Augusta Chronicle 's analysis of state discipline records.

Data isn't available on how many students have chosen to stay in school instead of being suspended.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.