Amherst school leaders say suspension alternative is having positive results

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AMHERST, Va. (WDBJ7)-- At one time being suspended from a classroom in Amherst County meant spending time at home.

Robert Adams supervises Amherst County's Alternative Suspension Center. He works directly with students who are dealing with social and behavioral problems.

Today, students who misbehave are sent to a different classroom where they work with Robert Adams.

"A lot of them would get suspended (and) they would be at home or out in the community, possibly getting into more trouble," said Adams, who coordinates Amherst County's Alternative Suspension Center.

"With this program they are here with me," Adams said of the alternative suspension program. "They are getting school work done and they are getting a chance to talk."

Talking, Adams said, may be the most important part of all. In addition to supervised tutoring, Amherst County's alternative suspension program gives students an outlet to share their problems and concerns.

"They are supervised and with people who care about them instead of being in the community unsupervised, where they are at risk of getting into more trouble," said Hollie Jennings, supervisor of discipline and compliance for Amherst County Public Schools.

144 students have participated in the alternative suspension program during the 2019-20 school year. So far 18% have returned for a second violation.

Last year, when out-of-school suspensions were still in use, the number of students needing a second punishment was higher at roughly 26%.

"That shows us that the program is working," Jennings said of the alternative suspension program. "Students are returning to school and not having the same behaviors that led them to come into the program."

Amherst County leaders say the new program's greatest benefit is that it gives students supervision, while they work on the issues that caused them to be punished in the first place.

"What this program provides is support. Academic support as well as behavior support, so that students can continue with their education and also get the skills that they need," said Ernest Penn, administrator of the Amherst Education Center where the Alternative Suspension Center is located.

Amherst County leaders say they've seen an overall decrease in behavior problems since the new program was introduced. So far this year, the school system has seen 132 fewer disciplinary referrals at its high school compared to the previous year.

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