PTA to air concerns over school violence

April 01, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

This week's news that a 14-year-old Brooklyn Park Middle School student had been charged with stabbing a classmate at school during an argument over a girl was hardly a shock to members of a committee studying discipline and violence in county school.

After all, Anne Arundel County Board of Education statistics show that, on average, at least one student brought a weapon to a school every other day last year.

But for the first time tonight, students and their parents will get to speak on the issue at a forum sponsored by the County Council of PTAs. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Annapolis High School cafeteria.

"The first we heard about concerns about discipline was at a workshop last summer on what position the PTA should take on various issues," said Carolyn Roeding, president of the County Council of PTAs.

People became so concerned, the council of PTAs formed its own committee in August to study the problem. The group plans to give its report to the school board, along with recommendations for improving the situation, in June.

"You need to address not only the violence in schools, but you have to teach children appropriate behavior early on," said Mrs. Roeding, a member of the committee.

Part of the problem, she said, is that students receive different signals about behavior, depending on which school they attend. Punishments, and what's considered an offense, vary widely. The discipline problem is measured in part, she noted, by how many times a student is "referred" -- that is, sent to the principal's office.

"But at some elementary schools children are referred to the principal's office for not sitting in their seat," Mrs. Roeding said. "At other schools, the child would simply be told to take his seat. And at some schools, discipline problems are reported more than at others."

Statistics supplied by the Board of Education show 5,302 students, or 7.9 percent of the student population, were suspended in the 1991-92 school year. Offenses ranged from insubordination and disrespect, to theft, smoking, drug or alcohol use and bringing weapons to school.

For the 1991-92 school year, 282 students were expelled, compared with 133 the previous school year.

In 93 incidents, students were found with weapons at school during 1991-92 -- one weapon for nearly every other day of the 180-day school year, according to the Board of Education's statistics.

"That's alarming. That's frightening to think that one person could stab another," Huntley J. Cross, special assistant to the superintendent, said, referring to Monday's incident at Brooklyn Park Middle School.

"We're looking at developing an anti-violence program, similar to our anti-drug program," he said. "We already have conflict resolution programs and peer helpers in many schools. But we're not going to fix the violence that goes on around us. There's an increase in weapons everywhere and schools can't be isolated -- we don't have moats and fences.

"You cannot stop someone who is bent on bringing a gun to school. But we're not giving up. We're going to keep trying to stop it in every way and shape we can."

Other discipline forums have been set for April 15, Meade High cafeteria; May 6, Severna Park High cafeteria; May 13, Glen Burnie High cafeteria. All meetings start at 7 p.m.

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