Violence concerns school board

June 06, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

Assaults, verbal threats and possession or use of weapons in Anne Arundel County schools have grown steadily since the fall of 1990.

In the last two years, there have been three studies to try to find ways to solve the problem. Last week, the board expressed frustration that there still is no plan. Staff members were directed to come back next month with specifics and cost estimates for programs to improve student behavior, beginning in the fall.

"I don't want to let another year go by without doing something," board member Joseph Foster said. "I'm extremely frustrated, because we sat here last spring and heard these nice reports about all the system was going to do, and the problem's not getting any better. I'm concerned we're not moving fast enough."

But Leslie Mobray, director of pupil services and the chairman of the most recent student discipline committee, assured Mr. Foster that there would be improvement next fall.

"It will not be free, but we could see progress as soon as next year," she said.

Verbal threats rose from 15 in the 1990-1991 school year to 33 in dTC 1992-1993, according to school figures. During the same period, physical assaults increased from 69 to 230 and possession and/or use of weapons from 40 to 118.

"We're seeing disruptive and violent behavior in elementary and middle school youngsters," said Huntley Cross, who handles student disciplinary problems. "We used to see it only in senior high. The youngsters have to be responsible for their behavior, and we have to be responsible and improve how we respond."

The proposal submitted to the board last week without cost estimates calls for a letter telling students of proper behavior and the punishments for infractions.

Part of the process, Mr. Mobray said, is to let students know on the first day of school what is expected of them by getting them to sign a contract. "We need to change the climate," he said.

The proposal also calls for a committee to create a standardized student behavior code. Now, codes vary from school to school.

In addition, school officials would provide a list of local mediators or counselors for students who are suspended or expelled. Several representatives from community agencies testified they want to help such students.

"I'm tired of having this one and that one fall through the cracks," said Robert Eades, of Reasoning Industries, a counseling group.

Children suspended from school generally wind up on the streets and fall prey to drug dealers who offer youngsters a chance to earn as much as $100 to deliver one package, he said. "And this is affecting the African-American community on a large scale."

Bertina Nick of the Clay Street Area Improvement Association described the problem as one of "benign neglect" by the school board.

"Children who are expelled have nothing to do but get into trouble," she said.

One of the proposals in the plan calls for in-school suspensions. Disruptive students would be taken out of their classrooms, but kept in the school building and required to do school work. Another would expand the Learning Center, now aimed at middle school students with behavior problems, to include elementary and high school students.

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