Time to Move on School Discipline

June 14, 1994

Recently, a task force on school discipline in Anne Arundel County unveiled its recommendations for clamping down on student violence. They look an awful lot like the recommendations the County Council of PTAs made exactly one year ago, and like the conclusions reached by a 25-member committee appointed by then-superintendent C. Berry Carter shortly after the PTAs began their research.

Two years, three committees and virtual consensus on what needs to be done: What more do the schools need before they act on a new discipline policy? Granted, the last year was an unusually difficult one for county schools. But if discipline problems are as severe as educators say -- they report a steady increase in assaults and the use of weapons as well as violent behavior in younger pupils -- then the school system ought not drag its heels on this issue.

Many of the committees' recommendations do not require hours of additional debate. What is so difficult or controversial about revising student behavior codes so they are consistent from school to school and reflect current problems, such as possession of guns and knives; increasing the number of parent-teacher conferences; providing better training for teachers so they feel empowered to handle problem students, and making it clear to children from the first day of school what kind of conduct is expected from them?

Some of the most important suggestions, including revamping the traditional suspension and expulsion policy, are more complex. But the schools have no choice but to change the way they deal with students who misbehave.

As it is, suspension puts problem kids on the streets, where they just get into more trouble. The current practice may protect other students from disruptive classmates, but shouldn't suspension also be designed to help problem children shape up? In-school suspension, where students are sent to a separate room to do school work, may involve staffing dilemmas, but it makes so much more sense than sending kids home (a punishment kids often view as vacation) that school officials must pursue this option.

It is time to stop talking about toughening up on school discipline. School officials know what needs to be done. It's time to do it.

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