N.C. District To Press Point With Classroom Near Jail

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School officials in Union County, N.C., think that disruptive students could benefit from a visual reminder that they could wind up in prison if they don't change their behavior.

Next week, the district plans to open a mobile classroom for its most undisciplined pupils just yards away from the barbed-wire fence of the county's new jail.

"We're hoping they'll recognize it's getting serious," said Cliff Dodson, the superintendent of the 18,500-student school system, located east of Charlotte.

"If they don't learn to get along with people and control their anger, they could be residents of that facility," he said.

Mr. Dodson said the district's Opportunity School will be the first such school in North Carolina, and perhaps in the country.

The school will house 25 to 30 students, who are to be transferred from two middle and two high schools in the county. Students who consistently use profanity, fight, or intimidate other students will be candidates for the special school, Mr. Dodson said.

In addition to regular coursework, the students will take anger-management and conflict-resolution classes where they will learn problem-solving skills and perform cooperative group activities. They will also learn vocational skills and earn pocket money by doing odd jobs, the superintendent said.

The deputy sheriffs at the jail have promised to act as mentors to the students and spend time with them between shifts.

Students whose behavior improves while at the alternative campus will be allowed to return to their regular schools.

However, a student who continues to violate school policy by being disruptive in class, fighting, or using profane language could be suspended from recreational activities, sent to a counselor, or sent to the sheriff's office. Students who are sent to the sheriff's office three times will face suspension for the rest of the school year.

District officials estimate the cost of the project at $60,500.

Locating a school on jail grounds may be new, but other programs have brought students together with convicts to impress on the young people the potential consequences of their misbehavior.

Effectiveness Unclear

There are no plans to have the Union County students visit the nearby jail or meet with its inmates. The jail currently houses about 120 inmates, most of whom are being held while awaiting trial on charges ranging from writing bad checks to murder.

Some school-safety experts say such approaches to student discipline have had mixed results.

"The 'scared straight' approach tends to be more effective with well-behaved kids. Serious offenders are often underwhelmed," said Ronald D. Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safe-ty Center in Westlake Village, Calif.

So far, teachers and principals in the district have been largely enthusiastic about the project, district officials said. Some are a bit leery of the tactic, however.

"It's kind of scary because it's new and we don't know the consequences," said Pat Wicker, an English teacher at Union County's Sun Valley High School and a past president of the local chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators. "You have the feeling of 'What are you doing to these young people?"'

If the project is deemed successful, the district plans to put another mobile unit at the jail site in September, allowing the Opportunity School's enrollment to expand to 55 students.

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