Discipline plan ‘in progress’

A plan to cut the drop-out rate in Lafayette Parish by shifting away from expulsions and suspensions is a “work in progress” that will depend on keeping disruptive children in school without disrupting the district, Superintendent Pat Cooper told City-Parish Council members on Tuesday.

“We do a real disservice to the community when we very easily toss kids out of school,” Cooper said. “Those kids aren’t moving to Australia. They’re staying in Lafayette, and those kids are going to be somebody else’s problem.”

The superintendent spoke Tuesday as part of a wide-ranging discussion on school discipline held during the City-Parish Council meeting at the request of Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.

“It is my opinion that school discipline issues are greater than a school problem,” Boudreaux said.

Cooper said the conventional way of dealing with school discipline problems has been to repeatedly suspend and expel problem students, many of whom drop out at the earliest opportunity.

“It was just easier for us to do it that way,” said Cooper, who came on as superintendent this year with a stated goal of graduating 100 percent of the students who enter the school system.

Cutting the school system’s 30 percent drop-out rate will mean working harder to keep those students at school, Cooper said, but the difficulty is in doing that without interfering with the education of other students and creating more problems for teachers.

“Admittedly, we are going against the grain here,” he said. “It is a difficult task, and it is a work in progress.”

No easy fixes were proposed Tuesday, but Boudreaux talked of the need for several agencies to come together, including the District Attorney’s Office, the city’s detention center, Police Department and Sheriff’s Office.

“To put this on the back of one agency alone, ... it’s not going to happen that way,” Boudreaux said.

Cooper told council members that one component of reducing the drop-out rate is to move disruptive students to progressively restrictive classroom environments rather than suspending or expelling them — first into an alternative school, then into a detention setting where students are essentially on “lockdown” for the day.

While in those settings, counseling, health care issues and other needs could also be addressed, the superintendent said.

“What we are trying to figure out is how we make that move from the school system to the detention center,” Cooper said.

He said the hope is students moved into detention settings ultimately will want to return to a normal school environment once they realize being sent home from school is not an option.

“As soon as you start behaving, we’ll bring you back to school again,” Cooper said.

He said if Lafayette does not address the student drop-out rate, residents can expect to see future crime problems caused by the children who are now dropping out.

“You don’t feel it right now, but you are going to turn into a New Orleans or a Baton Rouge,” Cooper said, referring to crime in those larger cities. “You can’t have a 30 percent drop-out rate and have the quality of life you want in Lafayette Parish.”