Students could face extended timeouts

STARon sounds like something out of “Star Trek,” but the proposed disciplinary program for students actually has more in common with “The Breakfast Club.”

The acronym stands for Schools Targeting Alternative Reform onsite. An extended version of timeout, the program would have misbehaving students in the Clark County School District spend up to nine weeks serving detention in a trailer or a portable classroom on campus.

They couldn’t eat lunch in the school cafeteria or participate in any extracurricular activities or athletics, making one critic consider the proposal excessive punishment.

“As a parent, I would be concerned about isolating a student for nine weeks,” said Edward Goldman, the associate superintendent for educational services and a School Board candidate for District A in southeastern Clark County.

The student’s length of time in STARon is up to the discretion of the principal, officials said. Students in the STARon portables would be supervised by teacher aides and/or teachers and be detained with other students.

A draft of the program estimates it could serve up to 35 students at a time. It’s proposed as an alternative to sending students to “opportunity schools,” which are set up as short-term interventions of four to nine weeks for students needing a break from their regular schools.

STARon and opportunity schools would accommodate students who have committed the same kinds of infractions, such as cheating on tests, fighting or defying school rules and teachers.

Ron Montoya, principal of Valley High School, likes the STARon proposal because it would save seats in the opportunity schools for students who committed worse offenses.

“Why should a student who has had a few tardies or has been insubordinate go to an opportunity school with someone who has brought a gun to school?” he asked.

Rather than switching schools and disrupting his education, students in the STARon portable classroom could receive their homework from their regular teachers and keep up with classes by computer, Montoya said.

Lauren Kohut-Rost, superintendent for instruction, said principals have told her they like the idea of keeping their students on campus.

STARon actually would be more immediate punishment, since a student would not have to go through a referral process to go to an alternative school.

Rost drafted the STARon proposal in response to the growing student population.

Recommended expulsions are up 33 percent for this school year over the same period last year, or 328 recommended expulsions this year compared to 247 recommended expulsions last year, district officials said.

Goldman said Clark County’s five opportunity schools already are half to 75 percent full, but some students are serving sentences carried over from the previous school year.

The opportunity schools serve up to 150 to 200 students, but at times have served as many as 220 students.

In addition to opportunity schools, there are “continuation schools” for students who are expelled from their regular schools for violent behavior and/or bringing alcohol and drugs to campus.

There’s some crossover between opportunity and continuation schools, since expelled students will go to an opportunity school if it’s necessary to separate certain students or for space. Continuation schools are smaller than opportunity schools, serving about 75 to 100 students.

Goldman, the associate superintendent and School Board candidate, was skeptical about the need for a new program since principals already have alternatives to opportunity school, such as giving a student “in-house suspension” or classroom detention for three to five days.

The draft proposal for STARon suggests that each school program could serve up to 35 students at a time or as many as 140 students a year, but Goldman said no school ever recommends sending that many students to an alternative school at one time.

At the most, he said, five students from the same school might be recommended for an alternative school.

The draft proposal estimates spending up to $201,779 in personnel and infrastructure costs for a pilot program’s four portables and staff. The portables would be equipped with computers and staffed with teacher’s aides and teachers who would be paid for working extra hours.

Rost proposes using some federal grants to offset costs.

Valley, along with Legacy and Mojave high schools and Brown Junior High School, have been selected for the pilot program, but the proposal still must go to the School Board for approval. Rost said the program would not start until the second semester at the earliest.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug or 702-799-2922.

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