Fearful of some students, teachers form a task force Tired of curses, intimidation, assaults

November 06, 1993|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

A high school student punches his teacher, then tells the teacher he will return to kill him.

Another teacher decides to quit after being physically assaulted four times in less than two months -- three times by the same student.

Students brutally beat a middle school teacher, sending her to the hospital in an ambulance.

This fall, more than ever before, city school teachers fear for their safety, the Baltimore Teachers Union said yesterday. Students have physically assaulted about 10 of them this school year and verbally abused, cursed at and threatened many more, the union said.

The union, whose president took teachers' concerns to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke during a meeting Thursday, announced yesterday that it is forming a citywide task force that will examine violence and threats against city teachers and recommend new discipline policies.

The task force -- to include teachers, health officials, city police, school police, parents, school system administrators and community groups -- also will survey the city's 6,500 teachers and look to other school systems nationwide for ideas on how to respond to threats against teachers.

"Teachers are sick and tired of being intimidated," said Irene Dandridge, union president. "They're sick and tired of being assaulted. They're sick and tired of being cursed at.

"The problem is as bad as it could possibly be, except for the fact that we haven't had a teacher killed. Our teachers are no longer going to take this."

Anxiety and stress from dealing with disruptive students have taken their toll on teachers, the union said: At least 50 new teachers have quit as a result of their fears of disruptive students, and many more likely will follow without intervention to allay their fears, Mrs. Dandridge said.

She stressed that only a fraction of disruptive students create fear among teachers.

But she said that Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's goal of reducing disciplinary removals and suspensions has resulted in a widespread reluctance among principals to remove disruptive students who teachers say don't belong in regular schools.

The task force, expected to make its recommendations by February, will focus much of its efforts on discipline policy, and possibly expanding alternative programs for perennially disruptive students.

"We've got to make a decision: Do we throw the other 28 children down the toilet so we can save this one or do we find an alternative for that one?" Mrs. Dandridge said.

She said the union met with the mayor -- who supported the task force -- instead of the superintendent, because "anything that reflects poorly on the school system is not going to be dealt with [by the superintendent]."

Nat Harrington, school system spokesman, showed up uninvited yesterday's news conference. He said that all students who assault teachers face automatic disciplinary removals and that the school system provides an alternative middle school, near Lemmel Middle School in Northwest Baltimore. About 30 students removed from regular city schools now attend the alternative middle school, which provides counseling, social workers and psychologists to help the disruptive youngsters, he said.

Dr. Amprey welcomed news of the new task force and said that his administration would work with the union to try to develop ways to reduce threats and violence against teachers.

But he disputed the claim that discouraging disciplinary removals had led to an increase in disruptions. The number of disciplinary removals has been roughly equivalent to the number a year ago, he said. Last school year, 14,106 students received disciplinary removals, which means they're removed from school for up to three days and cannot return before their parents attend a conference with school administrators.

More serious suspensions, which can lead to expulsions for a quarter or an entire year, also have been on par with last school year, when 2,052 students were suspended.

"What the [union] is doing is something worth doing, and we ought to take a look at it, but we have to realize that what happens in our schools happens in the entire city," Dr. Amprey said.

The superintendent, in his third year at the helm, has repeatedly stressed the need to find alternatives to removing children from school because that too often consigns them to a life of poverty and perpetuates a downward spiral among city youngsters. "They are still children, even the ones who might be misdirected, and it's our responsibility to try to reach them," he said.

Dr. Amprey pointed to numerous efforts to improve school safety and reduce disruptions. These include "conflict mediation" programs, a crisis-intervention team visiting schools to try to deal with troubled youngsters one-on-one and a hot line to report weapons or violence.

He also noted that two task forces -- one looking at ways to improve school safety and another to study the role of school police and security -- have been working to reduce disruptions.

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