Sunday, February 22, 2004

One kindergartner, four schools

Suspended over and over and over, boy is finally getting help to behave

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Christopher Rogers

Christopher Rogers in his kindergarten classroom.
(Photo by Gary Landers)

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Christopher Rogers gets in trouble a lot. He's been removed from three Cincinnati-area schools and nearly expelled from a fourth for throwing temper tantrums and striking another kid.

He's 5 years old.

Christopher's mother, Ana Cohen of the West End, acknowledges that her son has been physically aggressive in class. But she also says that Christopher has had physical ailments since he was a toddler, including trouble speaking and seizures from ages 1 to 3. She suspects he may suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Cohen says the disciplinary actions began in July at W.E.B. DuBois, a year-round charter school in Over-the-Rhine. The school accepted Christopher into the first grade because it offered no kindergarten.

His mother says she sent the boy there because the hours - students attend school from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. - would provide supervision while she attended college. Cohen also wanted her son to experience the school's martial arts and music programs. She was happy, too, that DuBois employed more than a dozen black male staff members who could serve as positive role models for Christopher.

But problems started almost immediately.

Christopher's teachers sent him to the office several times for refusing to sit down, Cohen says. In the principal's office, the boy took off his shoes and socks and laughed when he was being disciplined. Once, Cohen says, Christopher struck a girl who was picking at his hair while standing in line.

Christopher was suspended, his mother says, when he looked up a girl's dress and raised his middle finger at the principal. After more trouble, Christopher had the option of leaving the school permanently or being expelled, Cohen says.

Wilson Willard, DuBois' superintendent, won't comment on Christopher's case but says some students aren't ready for his school's long day. DuBois also has a zero-tolerance policy that requires immediate disciplinary action for fighting.

After leaving DuBois, Christopher attended Alliance Academy of Cincinnati in Evanston, then St. Francis Seraph in Over-the-Rhine - and was suspended from each of those schools within a month, his mother says.

Wanda Hill, principal of St. Francis Seraph, says that Christopher hit other students and staff and disrupted the learning of the rest of his class. She says that after he was suspended at that school, she suggested that Cohen send her son to a public school.

"He would then be able to receive services for a severe behavioral handicap, if he was identified as such," Hill says. "We don't have that here. I couldn't sacrifice the education of all the other kindergartners."

Hays Elementary in the West End, the school that Christopher currently attends, sent the boy home for one day after he grabbed a teacher's legs, causing her to fall. Cohen came in for a conference, which allowed her son to return to school.

Hays principal Kathryn Chambers says the best way to help a child is to "get the parent in here to try to figure out what's going on and what we can do to help."

Hays now has Christopher on a special behavior plan. He also gets counseling provided by the Children's Home of Cincinnati.

So far in his kindergarten year, Christopher has missed at least 30 school days from suspensions and being sent home, Cohen says. None of the penalities helped improve Christopher's behavior or his education, she says.

In December, the family's doctor referred Christopher to the Division of Developmental Disorders at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Cohen says she has gone through the orientation and is awaiting an appointment.

T H E   D I L E M M A

Kicked out of kindergarten:
Discipline at lower grades
One kindergartner, four schools
Teaching kids to cooperate
Stress at young ages
What should a parent do?

Area schools lead
in tough discipline:

Do expulsions work?
Programs keep kids learning

Difference blamed on stereotypes, culture, poverty and behavior:
Black students disciplined more
Another chance engenders success at Winton Woods
The students speak: Their view on suspensions
A T   Y O U R   S C H O O L

See discipline rates for your school or school district and how those compare to others in your state. Find your school.
P H O T O  G A L L E R I E S

Christopher's story
Racism roundtable

Two parents on pros & cons
Alton L. Frailey, superintendent
Audrey J. Gover, teacher
Sue Taylor, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers

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