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Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 1:30pm

Bibb County Revamps School Discipline

Bibb County has come up with a new way to discipline kids who misbehave in school. It’s an effort to reduce a 14-percent suspension rate -- twice the state average. The new system includes buy-in from schools, police, courts and social services.

One at a time officials line up to sign the agreement in the Bibb County School System’s board room.

“Next we’ll have Greg Winters, Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney.”

Attorney Veronica McClendon with Georgia Legal Services helped draft the agreement and get everyone to the table. She says right now many kids are sent straight to court for things that used to be handled at school like mouthing off to a teacher or fighting. The new protocol changes that.

“Instead of on a first time offense referring a child to juvenile court, they would instead first receive a warning to know that their conduct was something that violated the student code of conduct and violated the state criminal code.”

On a second offense kids will go before a conflict diversion committee that includes counselors and social workers. If a child is called in for a third time they may end up in court.

Bibb County Juvenile Court Judge Tom Matthews says right now his court is overwhelmed with minor cases.

“The less serious and less dangerous offenders ought to still be handled in school like they were when I was that age. And we need to re-empower the schools and re-empower the parents to have a valid in-school response to these matters rather than sending everybody to juvenile court.”

But felony cases, like assaults on teachers, weapons brought on campus, and drug cases will still be prosecuted. Bibb County District Attorney Greg Winters say that distinguishes between kids who misbehave and those who may be dangerous.

“We have two types of kids, kids that we’re mad at and kids we’re scared of. As someone who has a daughter in our public schools and who has a son who in a couple of years that will be in our public schools, I’m concerned about kids who are threats in our schools. They don’t need to be there.”

Every year an average of 600 Bibb County students are sent from school to juvenile court. In one local high school a quarter of the kids that leave the classroom never come back. Superintendent Romain Dallemand says that’s unacceptable.

“We want to keep our students in school so they can graduate. We want for our students to receive the best education in order to become dependable and responsible citizens. That is our focus.”

The program is modeled after one Clayton County initiated in 2004. Since then graduation rates there have increased 20-percent and on-campus fights are down 87-percent.The agreement goes into effect when classes resume in August.

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