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Students with disciplinary issues to be separated in Clayton County schools

District leaders say they want to be proactive instead of reactive when tackling violence in schools.

CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — The Clayton County Schools superintendent, Anthony Smith announced during a town hall Tuesday that the district would be taking a stricter approach in tackling violence in the school system.

Because of the rise in fights and violence, Superintendent Smith said the district is creating separate learning rooms or "opportunity" rooms where students have the opportunity to get their emotions under control. 

Leaders said students would remain in these rooms until their behavior is deemed appropriate to re-enter the classroom.

“We’re calling it an opportunity room because its giving our students a place to go and cool down so they can get re-integrated into the classroom," said Charmine Johnson, Chief Academic Officer for Clayton County Elementary Schools.

District leaders said some schools will have virtual rooms, while others will use separate staff to teach these children. They said the method has been tested in five elementary schools so far, but will be in all of them by the end of this month.

“The overall goal is to provide a response that leads to a new outcome," added Dr. Ebony Lee, Assistant Superintendent of K-12 Readiness for Clayton County Schools.

Officials said the rooms will help keep kids at school and provide resources and assistance, instead of suspending them and sending them home. 

“Instead of just waiting to react – we want to be on the proactive side so that we can save our students from suspending them out of school to make them productive and successful in those learning environments," said Keith Colbert, Clayton County Schools Chief Officer for Student Support Services.

According to the Governor's Office for Student Achievement, there were just under 6,000 disciplinary incidents reported last year in the district with more than half resulting in out of school suspensions.

Parents told 11Alive while they believe something needs to be done to address the violence in their children's' schools, their opinions are mixed on whether separating students is the answer.

“I do agree that when you send them home – they’re not doing anything at home and most of the time they're left alone because parents have to work," parent Ciaira Anthony said.

As a parent to four children in the school district, Tracey Griffin said she's worried separating children could lead to more difficulty. She said she believes the decision would be "tough" on those kids.

The district also has secondary schools to accommodate high school and middle school students dealing with disciplinary issues.

Leaders said they also plan to bring back safe after-school activities for children including basketball, golf and other extracurriculars.

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