Buffalo Public Schools officials believe they may have devised a more effective way to handle student behavior problems.

Possibly as soon as this fall, the schools could implement a policy that would give principals the option of calling a parent conference, rather than suspending a student, when a child misbehaves.

"We've got to keep students in school, and it means parents have got to accept responsibility for their misbehavior," said Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes, who devised the proposed policy.

Citywide, 15 percent of students were suspended at least once in 2007-08, the most recent year for which the state has published suspension rates. Two years earlier, 27 percent of students in Buffalo schools had been suspended.

Suspension rates vary significantly across the school system. Some of the highest suspension rates in 2007-08 were at Lafayette and East high schools, where more than half the students were suspended that year. This year, more than half the schools in Buffalo saw an increase in long-term suspensions, Keresztes told the Board of Education on Wednesday during a committee meeting.

Some types of infractions -- such as bringing a weapon to school -- must result in a suspension, under rules set by the state. But principals have discretion in handling other misbehavior, Keresztes said. Suspension tends to bring negative consequences not only for the student, but for the school, he said.

"When a child is suspended for a few days, the child is missing instruction," he said. When many children are suspended and miss instruction, he said, the results are reflected in the school's test scores.

Keresztes plans to present the board a formal policy proposal by the end of the summer that would give parents the option, at the start of the school year, to sign a contract saying they prefer a conference to a suspension for their child.

Then, if the child gets into trouble, the principal would have the option of scheduling a parent conference, rather than suspending the student, to try to address the problem's underlying issues. The student would be required to stay home until the parent attended the conference.

Board members expressed support. "I think it makes great sense," said Park District member Louis J. Petrucci.