Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jul 2006
Source: Telegraph (NH)
Copyright: 2006 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Ashley Smith, Telegraph Staff
Bookmark: (Youth)

Cracking Down


When a child is arrested inside a Nashua school,  chances are it's 
for one of three reasons: fighting  with a classmate, getting caught 
with drugs or acting  out of control.

Assault, drug violations and disorderly conduct are  overwhelmingly 
the most common offenses inside the  city's public high schools and 
middle schools –  or at least the crimes that staff and police 
are  picking up on.

However, students are arrested at some city schools  more frequently 
than others. Five years worth of school  arrest statistics from the 
Nashua Police Department  reveal which schools have the highest 
arrest rates,  what students are doing to get arrested and 
which  crimes almost never take place in city schools.

Since Nashua High School North opened in 2002, arrest  rates at the 
south campus have consistently been  higher. Among the three middle 
schools, Elm Street  usually has the highest percentage of student 
arrests.  Although the city's alternative middle school has the 
smallest pool of students – typically close to  100 – it 
has the highest arrest ratio in the  district by a landslide.

Although the Academy of Learning and Technology has led  the district 
in arrests per student since it opened,  the rate declined by about 
half this past school year.  It dropped from one in seven to one in 
15. The ALT  school primarily enrolls students in grades 6-9.

The most common offense at both high schools was  disorderly conduct. 
South had 119 of those arrests in  the last five years; North had 60. 
The second most  common charge was assault. Drugs violations were 
third,  ranging from dealing prescription medications to  possessing narcotics.

Assault was the most common offense at all three middle  schools and 
the ALT school, although drug and  disorderly conduct charges were 
also frequent. Theft  charges were more common at the middle schools 
than the  high schools.

Throughout the district, alcohol-related arrests were  rare. There 
have only been five in the last three  years, compared to 75 total 
drug arrests. That could be  because drug offenses rise to the level 
of arrest more  often than alcohol violations, Acting Superintendent 
Chris Hottel said.

Weapons offenses have also been infrequent. Three kids  were arrested 
at Fairgrounds Middle School in the last  five years for bringing 
weapons to school, but similar  offenses weren't reported at any 
other school. There  was one sexual assault arrest, which happened at 
Pennichuck Middle School.

Although the south high school consistently had higher  arrest rates, 
the disparity was greatest four years ago  – when North had 
just opened. At the time, South  held only sophomores because it was 
being renovated.  Juniors and seniors attended North. Ninth graders 
were still attending Fairgrounds, Elm Street and Pennichuck  junior highs.

Although South had half the student population of  North, the arrest 
ratio was three times higher. That  year, there was only one arrest 
at North for every 87  students. At South, that number was one in 25.

Arrest ratios were calculated by dividing the number of  arrests by 
the total student enrollment.

Hottel explained that younger students misbehave more  often than 
older students. A school made up of only  10th-graders, as was the 
case with South, would  probably have more discipline incidents than 
a school  with only upperclassman, he said.

"Generally, at-risk students need to be addressed in  grades 9 and 
10," Hottel said. "The maturity is still  growing in those years."

Since both schools shifted to the traditional  freshman-to-senior 
model in 2004, the disparity between  arrest rates has declined. More 
students are still  arrested at South, but by a much smaller margin.

The tendency for ninth- and 10th-graders to get in  trouble more 
often could also explain why arrest rates  at the middle schools 
declined that year, when ninth  graders moved to the high schools. 
Pennichuck, Fairgrounds and Elm Street middle schools saw 
their  arrest rates drop by around half. They dropped by about  half 
again during the school year that just ended.

Nashua Board of Education member Michael Clemons, who  handles 
discipline at Manchester's Central High School  as an assistant 
principal, said ninth grade is a tough  year of transition, so kids 
are more likely to  misbehave.

Thus, taking the ninth graders out of the middle  schools should 
naturally cause arrest rates to decline.

"The toughest year other than kindergarten or the first  grade . . . 
is probably the ninth grade," Clemons said.  "The ninth grade seems 
to be the problem year."

Further, the district's method of discipline changed  with the shift 
from junior highs to middle schools,  Fairgrounds Assistant Principal 
Sharon Coffey said. For  example, Coffey now has to get permission 
from the  superintendent to suspend a student for more than 10  days. 
Then the school has to hold a hearing to  determine the appropriate punishment.

"The approach is different. It's more age-appropriate,"  she said.

However, that still doesn't explain why Elm Street  continues to 
arrest and suspend significantly more  students than the other middle schools.

According to Coffey, it could come down to  demographics. Elm Street 
has a "tougher clientele," she  said.

Hottel noted that the school is much larger than the  others. Elm 
Street's enrollment was around 1,400 this  past school year, compared 
to around 1,000 at  Fairgrounds and fewer than 800 at Pennichuck.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman