Stronger Discipline in the Schools ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

June 09, 1993

* An editorial last Wednesday incorrectly stated the site of a school shooting. It was after school on the grounds of Broadneck Elementary. The Sun regrets the error.

5/8

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education should pay close attention to a report on school discipline that the county Council of PTAs presented recently. It suggests specific, sensible ways to stem the violent, criminal behavior that is turning schools into danger zones.

The school board is known for dragging out discussions of important issues, but it should waste no time following suggestions such as creating a uniform discipline code and changing a suspension system few students take seriously. In the last few weeks alone, we've seen a stabbing at Annapolis Middle, a tragedy that started as an argument over a blocked basketball shot; a shooting outside Broadneck High, and an Odenton elementary student who opened a tear gas canister on a school bus.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

What is wrong with kids today? Nothing. Youth has always simmered with potentially violent emotions -- insecurity, jealousy, anger and fear among them. But the availability of weapons means more kids are willing to vent those emotions in more destructive ways. A 14-year-old may be reluctant to pick a fight if he has only his fists; put a handgun in his locker, and he's a bolder being.

The schools have responded to these changes with a discipline policy that isn't tough or consistent. Kids don't take it seriously. They get expelled from one school, only to be re-admitted to another. Many aren't held accountable for their actions until long after the offense has occurred, if at all. And suspensions are too often viewed as vacations, not punishment.

Maybe suspension would be more effective if schools followed the PTA's recommendation for in-school suspensions, with kids sent to a separate room to do schoolwork. The problem, of course, is who staffs the rooms? The PTA recommends the parents of the suspended students themselves -- a provocative idea, perhaps, but one that demands discussion. Many working parents are bound to object to the inconvenience or impracticability of such an arrangement. But perhaps that is not such a bad thing, if that is what it takes to make them pay greater attention to their children.

A less problematic suggestion is creation of a uniform discipline code. It is ridiculous that discipline policies vary from school to school. There is no reason why the schools can't start working on this immediately. There is no time to lose.

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