Rumor-control hot line planned at Northeast school 'We have to rebuild the feeling of trust'

August 26, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County school officials are establishing a rumor-control hot line at Northeast High School, part of an ambitious program aimed at healing the emotionally ravaged school community, which has seen three teachers charged with child sex abuse since April.

"Communication with parents, teachers and students is probably the most critical part of the plan," said Ronald L. Beckett, the school system's assistant superintendent for support services. "Here, everyone feels like they don't know what's going on. We have to rebuild the feeling of trust and community and get back to a normal school atmosphere, if there is such a thing."

The school system was ordered by state School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to have a program in place to support teachers and students by the first day of school, which for students is Wednesday. Teachers reported back yesterday.

But this plan goes beyond that.

"We tried to come up with ideas that could be developed and used all year long," said Mr. Beckett, who is responsible for seeing the school system meets all Dr. Grasmick's mandates.

The plan calls for: a full-time nurse; a full-time psychiatrist; evening counseling sessions open to students, teachers and parents; a peer-counseling program where 15 teens will be trained to help their friends, and a program that will show students how to resolve conflicts.

The hot line number will be distributed when students report Wednesday.

Teachers were briefed on the plan yesterday. Mr. Beckett said it was clear they are questioning even their most routine actions toward students after April's arrest of Ronald Walter Price, a social studies teacher at the school, who has admitted on national television to having sex with eight students.

A second teacher, Laurie Susanne Cook, was arrested in May, and a third teacher, Charles A. Yocum, in July; each is accused of having a sexual relationship with a student.

"There's considerable stress right now," said Mr. Beckett. "People they've known and trusted and been friends with for years have been implicated."

Mr. Beckett offered this example of possible problems: What should a male coach do about a student whose parents haven't picked her up after the game?

"They want to know how to deal with things that used to be routine, but in the current environment are no longer routine," said Mr. Beckett. "Before, the coach would probably have given the kid a lift home or sat in the office with the kid and waited for the parent. But now the concern is, 'How will that look?' "

Teachers will be trained on how to recognize and report child abuse and sexual harassment. Many already have asked to meet with the school system lawyer, P. Tyson Bennett, Mr. Beckett said.

Parents won't be left out of the healing or training processes either. Courses on parenting, updates in the school newsletter and periodic meetings with school officials are planned.

"We want to emphasize that the plan is a living document," Mr. Beckett said.

"Basically, common sense has to prevail. There will be opportunities for parents, staff and students to give us new ideas."

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