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Attendance and discipline policies shared the spotlight Thursday as School Board members grappled with remediation efforts that target problem students in the district.

"These are good kids who are troubled kids," noted Superintendent Carmen Granto. "They are not evil.

"We have a lot of kids who want to go to the Alternative School," Granto continued. "It's more of a family atmosphere. At the very best, it's remedial. It doesn't get at the root causes of what's going on in their heads."

Problems including fighting, insubordination or repeated poor attendance require students to attend one of two hearings: a transition hearing, which targets attendance woes, or a superintendent hearing, for discipline problems, according to Angelo Massaro, the district's chief attorney and transition hearing officer.

"Most of the students I see at transition hearings are ninth graders to seniors," Massaro said. "Many times, the students and their parents don't even show up."

At least one board member repeatedly expressed his concern over an issue that goes beyond school walls.

"What is the problem," asked Kevin Dobbs. "What we are looking at really are students with attendance problems; 75 to 80 percent of the time they are not in school. They can be age 21 by the time the graduate, if they are successful."

Options facing problem students include assignment to the Alternative School -- based in the Niagara Falls Housing Authority complex on Ninth Street -- or "home schooling" which actually occurs during one- or two-hour daily sessions at the Boys Club on 15th Street.

"It's interesting that some of the students are so capable that they find it a perk to go to home-teaching for two hours a day," Massaro commented. "What makes home-teaching such a piece of cake?"

State regulations set minimum daily standards for home schooling at one hour for elementary pupils and two hours for middle- and high-school students.

The Alternative School, attended by students grades seven to 12, is operated by Orleans/Niagara BOCES and is geared toward children who have had difficulty in traditional classroom settings.

In 1997, the Alternative School was attended by 58 students. During the first 10-week period of 1998, 36 students attended the school, according to Ralph Penale, a district administrator.

By contrast, Penale reported that 89 students received home-teaching so far this school year. Of that number, 11 were for medical reasons, and 15 had subsequently returned to their home school.

In another topic covered at the School Board study session, trustees were updated on the district's honors testing program, which commences in March.

Testing for elementary pupils at Harry F. Abate School is scheduled to begin March 8. Middle school students will be tested March 5 and March 6 in Niagara Middle School. High school students will be tested over three Saturdays, March 6, 13 and 20. Students in grades nine through 11 will receive letters outlining criteria for requesting admission to honors classes by mid-February, according to Judy Martin, a parent on the organizing committee.

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