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Cortines Urges Tougher Policy for Gun-Toting Students

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New York City students caught with guns should be suspended from their regular schools for one year and sent to special discipline schools for student offenders, Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines said last week.

In a memo to the board of education, Mr. Cortines said his proposed policy changes would "send a strong, clear message to our students, parents, and staff that possessing or using weapons and engaging in violent behavior will not be tolerated."

His proposal would require a one-year suspension of any student from kindergarten through 12th grade found with a gun at school. Students in grades 6-12 would be sent to a "Crossroads school" with a structured environment designed to help them return to a traditional setting.

The chancellor called for the board of education to create four such schools to serve about 1,350 students. Younger students caught with guns would be removed from their schools and placed in alternative programs.

In addition, any students in grades 6 through 12 who used knives, box cutters, or other weapons would be suspended for a year and sent to a Crossroads school. Superintendents of the city's 32 community school districts would decide whether to suspend younger children who used such weapons.

Even in cases requiring a yearlong suspension, the district superintendents would retain the right to modify the punishment on a case-by-case basis.

Growing Threat of Violence

More than 700 box cutters--razor blades on long wooden handles used in stock rooms--have been taken from city students since September, the chancellor noted. Because of the growing threat from them, he recommended adding them to the list of banned weapons.

The chancellor said the Crossroads schools would have intensive guidance services for students and would prepare individual instruction and support plans for students and their families. Students would not be sent there permanently, he said, and the schools would be regularly monitored by community review teams.

A court order forced New York City to dismantle a system of alternative schools 20 years ago, after critics complained that they were little more than warehouses for students.

Susan Amlung, a spokeswoman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union was thrilled with the proposals.

"This does not merely put kids out on the street," she said. "It establishes alternative programs for kids who are violent or chronically disruptive so that kids in regular classrooms can be educated without fear, and the troublemakers can get the services they need."

In including knives and other weapons, the chancellor's proposed suspension policy goes beyond the gun-free-schools provision of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which requires districts to suspend students with guns for a year or risk having federal funds withheld.

Mr. Cortines said he expects to make final recommendations on discipline by mid-May, following extensive discussion through borough forums.

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