Schooling disruptive students

December 03, 1993

The proposal by state education Superintendent Nancy Grasmick to create a school for disruptive youths seems like the answer to a lot of teachers' prayers. No education issue transcends geographic and socio-economic boundaries as much as students who disrupt the classroom.

Bad kids and their inattentive parents, so it seems, are everywhere. In Baltimore, the community gasped at news that one student punched Officer Friendly, the police department's goodwill ambassador, and that another tough shoved Mayor Kurt Schmoke when the mayor intervened to break up a schoolyard fight. Even in well-to-do Howard County, when a local assistant principal proposed on one of this newspaper's zoned editorial pages that schools bill parents for the added staff time their rowdy children require, he was elevated to near-hero status in the community.

In 1991-92, the most recent year for which figures are available, students racked up 84,000 offenses in Maryland schools. Baltimore City had to suspend one-tenth of its students. The surrounding suburban counties suspended from 3 to 8 percent of their enrollments. On the conservative Eastern Shore, they crack the whip, or need to, even more: Somerset suspended one-fifth of its school population and six other Shore counties suspended more than 10 percent of their students.

With that as a backdrop, Dr. Grasmick's idea for a facility where selected middle-schoolers would live and attend class seems to make sense. One has to wonder, though, whether the plan has more political appeal than practical application.

First, while many school administrators might salivate at a place to send troublesome kids, this facility won't be a "dumping ground." With but 60 students at the outset, it wouldn't even qualify as an ashtray. Nearly 50,000 students are suspended in Maryland schools and this facility would seek to cast an even wider net, over middle-schoolers who haven't necessarily been suspended yet.

Second, Dr. Grasmick wants to develop this school with the University of Maryland as a laboratory, to develop methods to better reach these children. But because the students will reside at the school, living conditions will be extremely different from their home environments.

Third, this initiative will require parental cooperation, the state says. Chances are, if these parents could have been more involved in the first place, their children might not present such a problem.

With all that said, Gov. William Donald Schaefer should still give Dr. Grasmick approval to proceed. This experiment might be a drop in the bucket. It might not translate well to the "real world." But any serious attempt to address this problem is a step in the right direction.

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