Special Report: School discipline
Many students at these high achieving schools have been suspended or expelled for drugs and alcohol, violent attacks, sexual assaults - even for bringing weapons to school.
Melissa Pearrow, school psychologist
"It's a very hard time to be a child growing up in our society."
In all, 3,000 incidents in the 2006-07 school year, the most recent for which data is publicly available.
We calculated the number of incidents per thousand students so that the size of the school system wouldn't be a factor. And among these top MCAS schools, we found the highest rate of suspensions and expulsions in:
At Somerset High there's a zero tolerance policy in place. Break the rules, pay the price. But the superintendent told 7News he strives to keep kids in school, even if they're suspended repeatedly. Only two kids were expelled during the 2006-07 school year.
Supt. Richard Medeiros, Somerset Public Schools
"Our students are staying in school and as a result of staying in school, you're certainly going to have some of the same at-risk behaviors when you have the whole population there."
And which schools in our sample had the highest rates of suspensions and expulsions for physical and sexual attacks?
What do parents think about being on the list? We went to Bedford to find out.
Jonathan Hall, 7News
"Does that surprise you?"
Bedford parent 1
"Yes, it definitely does."
Bedford parent 2
"I think it's probably a good thing. I think it's a good idea to take the hard line."
Jonathan Hall, 7News
"You don't think kids in Bedford are different than kids anywhere else?"
Bedford parent 3
"No absolutely not."
And here are school districts with the highest disciplinary rates for drugs and alcohol - again within our sample, the top performing MCAS districts in Eastern Massachusetts:
Newton came in sixth, and if you look only at marijuana possession, we found more kids there were disciplined than at any other school district in the whole state.
The newly arrived principal at Newton North decided to crack down on pot, even suspending kids who refused to be searched.
Jennifer Price, Newton North High School Principal
"We had suspicion, they made a drug related comment, they seemed to be under the influence, they refused a search - I dealt with those as possession issues, and that is taking a hard line."
Experts say school administrators are feeling more pressure to take that hard line.
Schools are required to report suspensions and expulsions to the state - but taking a student out of school is a judgment call.
While one town might choose to suspend a kid, another might order detention and community service, which need not be reported.
So to be fair: some schools may have earned their spot on our lists because they are quicker to suspend or expel students: not because their students are breaking the rules more often.
Discipline can be a touchy subject for school superintendents. Some did not return our calls; others wouldn't comment on camera. A number of schools in our story gave us the following written statements:
Peter G. Schafer, Superintendent
"We have good kids, good teachers, and good parents here...and we have good schools...we're rule followers in Abington."
Dr. Charles Symonds, Principal of Rockport Middle and High Schools
"Regardless of what the numbers are, the important thing for schools is for us to respond in an effective and coordinated way to what we see in front of us. I think Rockport is a wonderfully healthy place for kids and it is a great community that wants to address matters directly and forthrightly."
Mark R. Mason, Superintendent
"We decided that for seven hours a day that our high school was going to be free and clear of any substances that might impact a student's learning."
Thomas J. Kane, Superintendent
"I would say that we would strive to have no incidents of physical violence. We see our school as a safe school and because of that these types of incidents, when they do happen, are seen as out of character for our school."
If you want to see where your school stands when it comes to disciplining students, check out the state Department of Education's School Safety and Discipline Report.
(Copyright (c) 2008 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)