Education

Modesto City Schools board to get fire repair bill, state mandate to lower black student suspensions

The Modesto City Schools administration building on Locust Street.
The Modesto City Schools administration building on Locust Street. Modesto Bee

Modesto City Schools board members will talk about school discipline and preschool programs at their Monday meeting. They will also vote on fast-tracking fire damage repairs at Johansen High School, estimated to cost $9 million.

The June 18 fire started in a second-floor computer lab, causing major damage to Johansen’s Building B, but no injuries. Firefighters estimated the damage at $500,000, but further study found damage to 18 classrooms, 10 science lab classrooms, multiple restrooms, offices, hallways, storerooms, stairs and an elevator, notes an agenda item.

The current estimate to repair the structure and replace the equipment and furnishings stands at $9 million, all but $100,000 to be paid by Travelers Insurance, the report says. Trustees will be asked to vote on a declaration of emergency situation to speed repairs.

Trustees will get an update on an analysis of discipline of students with disabilities showing African American students continued to be kicked out of school at higher than normal rates in 2013-14. The state notified the district in March that it was out of compliance, says the informational report.

District data show sizable decreases in the numbers of special-education students overall suspended or expelled by the district, and it came in at less than the state rate for Latino and mixed-race students for the first time.

But 4.4 percent of black high school students with disabilities, 3.4 percent in earlier grades, spent two weeks or more out of school that year, compared with a statewide rate of 2.4 percent. The number of students is low – a total of 14. However, by state averages there should have been only eight.

Modesto City Schools faced state sanctions in 2012, in part for high numbers of children with disabilities being expelled or suspended. Districtwide changes in discipline procedures followed, including training teachers to better manage class behavior and early-intervention programs. The report notes it will continue this work, but does not include recommendations for further action.

Several interventions will be considered in contracts up for a vote Monday night. Mental health services for children acting out are proposed for every Modesto City Schools campus through a $1.8 million contract with the Center for Human Services.

Restorative justice training, counseling at Enochs High School and support sessions for Enochs and Johansen teens would be provided under a $36,400 contract with Youth for Christ Central Valley. A full-time mental health clinician to train staff, manage difficult cases and intervene in crisis situations is proposed under a $90,000 contract with the Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.

A report on Modesto City Schools preschools will also be heard by the board. The district serves 780 low-income children through a $3.5 million state preschool contract up for ratification Monday, another 500 in federally funded Head Start classes and 160 youngsters in licensed home child care.

Challenges noted in the report include long waits for 3-year-olds to get into the program, higher numbers of children speaking no English as well as more children with special needs, who now make up 19 percent of youngsters served. Violence and unemployment in low-income neighborhoods are also noted as problems that affect preschoolers.

On the plus side, the programs tallied more than 400 parent volunteers over the past year and strong response to parent programs promoting reading and school involvement.

In other business, parents Debbie Barrera and Filipe Alvarez will address the board regarding programs for English learners and poor kids, campus safety, and a lack of defibrillators or school nurses. Reached by phone Friday, Barrera said she and Alvarez have formed a parent advocacy group hoping to bring a youth center to east Modesto.

The Modesto City Schools board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday in the district staff development center, 425 Locust St., Modesto. See the agenda here. Watch a live stream of the meeting here.

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