Safeguards Against School Violence ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

April 06, 1993

The violence that shook Anne Arundel public schools last week -- a reported rape, a stabbing and two teen-agers arrested for bringing guns to class -- hammers home the point teachers have been trying to make throughout recent contract negotiations. Schools are becoming increasingly dangerous, and teachers need all the safeguards they can get, including knowledge of where the danger may lie.

Though salary issues are the main reason contract talks are deadlocked, whether teachers have a right to know about transfer students with a violent history is a controversial sticking point.

Teachers argue persuasively that they would be more capable of maneuvering through the minefield the classroom has become if they knew which students were potentially explosive. As it is, principals are told if a pupil with a violent background has transferred from another school, but they do not have to tell teachers. The school board says a student's right to a fresh start supersedes a teacher's right to a warning.

The board's position is not without merit. Telling a teacher that Susie once kept a handgun in her locker is bound to color a first impression. Susie, sensing she is being viewed as a troublemaker, decides she may as well live up to expectations, and the cycle of misbehavior continues.

While school administrators wisely recognize this problem, their priorities are backward. The safety of all other pupils and teachers should count for more than the transferred student's right to confidentiality, not the other way around.

This does not mean that a troubled student's history has to be broadcast for all the community to hear. Teachers should know that if they are given this information they will be held to the same closed-lip standard that now applies to principals. Likewise, they should be warned against the tendency to act disapprovingly or suspiciously toward students before they have done anything wrong. Because this is the board's greatest concern, why not give teachers training on how to help such students make a new beginning while keeping an unobtrusive eye out for signs of trouble?

If this were done, the new policy would not only protect the school community; it would actually be more helpful to once-violent students themselves.

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