The Pupil Adjustment Program (PAP) is an initiative within the Akron Public Schools child study department that started in the late 1980s as a result of increasing concerns about students with serious behavioral needs. The mission of PAP is to provide comprehensive psychological services to students referred to the Board of Education for major disciplinary infractions of the district's Code of Student Behavior. These infractions include offenses such as verbal and/or physical assaults, use and/or possession of a weapon, theft, setting fires, threats of harm against others, and use and/or possession of drugs.
Two full-time school psychologists currently staff the Pupil Adjustment Program: Terry Bendo and Erich Merkle. The PAP model consists of one school psychologist taking the lead in “triaging” students who are referred for discipline due to violations of the Code of Student Behavior.
Terry Bendo typically reviews referred students’ school records, participates in numerous discipline and expulsion hearings, and makes referrals as appropriate to either community agencies or to the other personnel in PAP. Erich Merkle intervenes with those suspended and expelled pupils who are found to be most in need of school psychological services.
Additional duties of the PAP staff psychologists include assisting the student services and security department with building evacuations, weapon searches, bomb threats, staff in-services and student risk assessments. Ohio House Bill 71 mandates mental health professionals warn of and protect against direct and explicit threats made by a student if there is reasonable belief that the student has the intent to carry out the threat. The PAP staff psychologists currently maintain the district-wide database collection on the mandated Duty to Warn and Threat Assessment documentation. PAP psychologists are also charged with monitoring re-entry plans for expelled pupils and individuals returning from the custody of the Department of Youth Services.
Over the years, the individualized nature of the services offered through PAP has been extended upward to include programmatic efforts for servicing entire populations of “at-risk” youths in alternative school settings. At present, these models are numerous but include short-term placements for students with acute psychiatric/behavioral concerns, placements for students to continue academic pursuit in lieu of expulsion, placements for students who present serious conduct and/or safety issues, and placements for students who are several years behind their expected grade placement.
As in many school districts, a relatively small percentage of students constitute an inordinate percentage of disciplinary referrals. This imbalance is evidence that there exists several groups and/or subtypes of students who may, for a variety of reasons, be optimally served in alternative programs that significantly differ from traditional models of education. The Pupil Adjustment Program continues to assess these reasons and develop alternatives to traditional education in order to foster learning in all students.