- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

DENVER (AP) - A Colorado school superintendent said Friday he will keep disciplining students by placing them in isolated, 4-by-6-foot rooms to study during school hours as an alternative to expulsion and as a way to reduce a high dropout rate.

The punishment is preferable to allowing the students to disrupt others, and it allows the school to avoid losing state accreditation over its dropout rate, Center Consolidated School District Superintendent George Welsh said.

That rate has dropped from 13 percent to less than 2 percent last year.

“This is a great alternative to expulsion,” Welsh said.

The school in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley was previously warned by state officials about its poor performance, he said.

Parents of troublesome students were given a choice between having their children expelled or placed in isolation, where they were given materials to study.

Infractions that resulted in isolation range from selling drugs and carrying knives to talking in class and passing notes, Welsh said. About 40 students have landed in isolation during the past 10 years. He said the rooms have unlocked doors and were approved by the district school board.

It wasn’t until last spring that some parents began complaining, he said. Their complaints were first reported by KMGH-TV.

In response, Welsh agreed to remove doors from the rooms and said those in the program will now be more closely supervised, get exercise twice a day, and eat lunch with other students.

He also set limits on the time students at Center Consolidated School can spend in isolation - eight weeks for high school students, six weeks for middle school students, and four weeks for elementary school students.

School board member Philip Varoz said he contacted the state Department of Education about the punishment and was told it has no control over local school boards. State officials referred him to local authorities, including police, but Varoz said he was told it was a problem for the school board.

“It is a local control issue,” said Megan McDermott, spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

The American Association of School Administrators issued codes of conduct for public schools in September. It recommended that districts tell parents about school disciplinary policies and set specific punishment guidelines for various infractions.

“The consequences of harsh and punitive discipline policies, including zero tolerance and the overuse of suspension and expulsion, are devastating in the lives of children,” the association concluded.

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