LAFAYETTE — Within the first six weeks of classes, the Lafayette Parish school system has logged “an abnormally high number” of referrals for students fighting on campus when compared with previous years, a district official said.
Reports of instigating or participating in fights — 250 — were the top infractions logged by students between Aug. 10 and Wednesday, Brandi Gonzales, the district’s supervisor of child welfare and attendance, told the School Board on Wednesday.
Gonzales said that because of technical issues with the district’s new student information software system, data for the same period last year was not readily available, but 250 infractions for fighting was an “abnormally high number for us at this point of year.”
The other top offenses for student infractions were leaves school or classroom without permission with 174 infractions and willful disobedience with 148 infractions, Gonzales said.
Board member Mark Allen Babineaux had requested an update on changes to the district’s discipline policy made before the start of the 2012-13 school year. The changes gave school-level administrators more flexibility in disciplining students and also excluded sending students home for bad behavior.
Of the total 2,962 referrals for discipline infractions, 1,021 resulted in an in-school suspension and 50 resulted in an out-of-school suspension, according to district data. At least 41 infractions were referred to law enforcement authorities and 23 infractions resulted in a recommendation for expulsion.
The high number of referrals at Lafayette High — 414 — concerned board member Kermit Bouillion. He questioned why only one school resource officer — a police officer who assists the school — staffs the parish’s largest high school, which has more than 2,000 students.
“What are the chances of Lafayette High getting another school resource officer?” Bouillion asked.
The district added two school resource officers this year to provide full-time staffing at two middle schools that previously shared one officer.
Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said staffing of additional school resource officers is dependent upon both funding and the availability of trained officers.
The discipline policy changes are not working in some schools, board member Tehmi Chassion said.
He said he has fielded calls from school employees and at least two students critical of the changes.
“There’s some serious issues taking place based on the new policy or the new way things are going about,” Chassion said. “They just basically want some help.”
Billeaudeau responded that some “hot spots,” schools that require some hands-on guidance, have been identified and teams will be deployed to recommend how to implement the new discipline policy, such as increasing visibility and communication among administrators.
“I need administrators and teachers to take charge of their schools,” Billeaudeau said. “That’s what I need and that’s what we expect.”
Students recommended for expulsion or an out-of-school suspension are sent to the district’s new alternative program site, N.P. Moss Preparatory School.
While the Moss site is still under renovation, some areas on campus have been available for students sent there for discipline issues, Gonzales said.
“I think kids are catching on that there are no free breaks anymore,” she said. “You’re either going to school here or you’re going to school there.”
By Nov. 1, the site will be ready for other alternative programs, such as those for overage students, who are behind academically and often struggle on a regular campus, Gonzales said, adding that she expects the number of discipline infractions to decrease soon afterward.