Baltimore County School Expulsions
According to an article in The Sun June 10, Dr. Stuart Berger, newly appointed superintendent of Baltimore County public schools, is critical of the system's policy concerning use, possession and distribution of illegal drugs and disruptive behavior, including the possession of weapons on school property.
Dr. Berger views the disciplinary aspect of this policy as "mandatory sentencing," and thinks that it should be reviewed. As George Will would say: "Well now!`
One would hope that before making any rash moves in the name of change, Dr. Berger and the board would consult with school-level administrators, parents and teachers concerning the effectiveness of the current policy as it relates to the school atmosphere, and the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn in an environment free of chronic and violent disruption.
Perhaps a little history is in order. In the late '70s it was becoming clear to those of us in school-level administrative positions that the presence of drugs on the school campus and the influence of the drug culture was becoming a problem of serious proportions.
Although we were using all legal means at our disposal, such as counseling, referral to community agencies, in-school suspensions, suspension to parents, involvement of pupil personnel workers and school psychologists, it was apparent that the problem of serious school disruptions due to drug-related activity was not being successfully addressed.
Parents, students and community leaders were all of the same voice in asking us to deal with the problem more effectively.
The bottom line was that we had to remove the offenders from the schools.
To quote Dr. Berger, the solution was a "difficult and painful process" that took "intestinal fortitude." The idea of expulsion for violation of the policy was not a decision taken lightly without a great deal of discussion and thought.
The current policy has had its critics. It is important to note here that it has withstood challenge in court and scrutiny by the ACLU.
The result has been a school system in which, for the most part, teachers and students can go about the business of teaching and learning in an environment devoid of continuous and serious disruption.
There are aspects of the policy that should perhaps be reviewed for the general public.
First, beginning at the upper elementary grades, the policy is thoroughly explained to each student as it is each year thereafter. New and late entrants are made aware of the policy as soon as they enter a Baltimore County public school.
Administrators, counselors and teachers share in giving this information to students. Copies of the policy are also sent to parents for their information.
Secondly, expulsion is mandatory, but not before a thorough review by members of the superintendent's staff and a committee of lay board members. There have been cases where the expulsion has been rescinded for cause.
Thirdly, the expulsion is reviewed periodically and a student showing a sincere effort to progress with his or her education can be reinstated, often in the following school year.
Fourth, the student under expulsion is given access to a variety of programs including counseling whereby he or she can maintain academic standing while awaiting review and possible reinstatement.
Finally, it should be pointed out that in each case of which I am aware both the parent and the student acknowledge that they have been made aware of the policy and the consequences of its violation.
My involvement in the policy resulted from having served for two years as director of pupil services and five years as assistant superintendent for the Northeast area in the Baltimore County public schools. Prior to that I had been a senior high school administrator for 12 years.
Change is inevitable. To think otherwise would be foolish.
Dr. Berger may well have ideas for change that will have positive results for the schools of Baltimore County.
Let us hope that change for the sake of change is not part of the new approach and that Dr. Berger and the lay board members will think long and hard and listen before abandoning a policy that has served the schools of Baltimore County well for the past 15 years.
one is so naive to think that we have solved the "drug problem" in the Baltimore County public schools.
What has been accomplished is the establishment of an environment wherein learning can take place without unwanted and continuous disruption.
Society at large will someday hopefully solve the pervasive problem of drugs in our communities. When that happens the policy in question will no longer be needed.
G. Wayne Burgemeister
The writer is retired assistant superintendent of Baltimore County public schools.
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