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Criminal hearings decline in Gainesville schools
Students sent to tribunals for drugs, fighting, theft
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The crime rate is dropping in Gainesville City Schools, according to data presented at Monday night's board meeting.

Since 2008, the annual number of students being sent to tribunals, or hearings, decreased from 91 to 47.

"We've definitely seen the number of tribunals that are drug and alcohol related go down," said Assistant Superintendent Linda Youngblood.

The reasons for the changes include programs at the system and school levels.

"Gainesville Middle has been very proactive against bullying," Youngblood said.

Gainesville High and Wood's Mill Learning Academy spend time talking about crime when students review the Code of Conduct, and all three schools have schoolwide programs about crime prevention.

According to the data, students were sent to tribunal in 2010-2011 for behaviors related to bullying, drugs, fighting and theft, among others.

Youngblood said the maximum number of days students can be suspended from school is 10.

Holding a tribunal depends on the behavior. Weapons charges bring automatic tribunal, but others may not.

She said if a hearing is necessary, it begins with the school presenting the case to a panel of three people. The panel includes Youngblood and administrators from other schools.

The panel determines the student's guilt and then the punishment.

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she first recognized the need for improvement in 2007 when she saw more than 70 middle school students at the alternative school, then housed at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

"I was alarmed at the number of students there and that they did not have a good plan in place to keep up with their schoolwork," Dyer said.

Without such a plan, students went to tribunals and were sent to the alternative school. When they returned to their home school, they were usually behind in some way.

The school system began working with new computer programs and the University of California-Los Angeles to pilot new ways to prevent crime in schools using positive behavior support.

"You do actions that reinforce motivation in schools," Dyer said.

"You can address, mitigate and get rid of bad behavior by doing interesting things in the classroom."

No data was presented for students at the elementary level.

"Tribunals are very rare at the elementary school, because of how young the students are and they haven't learned a lot," Youngblood said. "It's extremely unusual to have a child before middle school be sent to tribunal."

Regardless of the student's age, Youngblood said it's important these days to keep kids on track from the start.

"A lot of the incidents now are stopped so much quicker," she said. "Schools are more aggressive about issues earlier on."


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