Making expulsion count

July 20, 1994

The fact that Anne Arundel County schools have the highest expulsion rate in the Baltimore area is less a concern than what the schools are doing with the kids they expel.

The Evening Sun recently reported that the county expels more students than even much-larger Baltimore City. That is not the kind of information the school public relations department is likely to advertise, but it does not necessarily reflect badly on the system.

It may be taken as a sign that educators are serious about keeping the schools safe. And since the various school districts define expulsion differently, it's not clear whether student behavior really is that much worse in Anne Arundel than any place else.

What is clear is that Anne Arundel has fallen behind other counties at finding alternatives to kicking kids out of school and leaving them to their own devices.

This may preserve classroom safety, but expulsion should also be a tool to help turn problem students around. Yet educators, parents and three different committees on school discipline agree that expulsion and suspension as used in Anne Arundel are fairly useless in that regard.

Other jurisdictions are experimenting successfully with peer counseling and Saturday detention programs in lieu of suspension; instead of sending kids home as punishment, they are required to spend an extra day in school. Some school systems have alternative settings for children whose behavior demands removal from the regular classroom.

Anne Arundel has one alternative school, the Learning Center. But that serves middle school students only.

Though school officials say 80 percent of expelled students are returned to the classroom, little is done during the expulsion period to prepare them to go back to school or to help them change the behavior that got them kicked out in the first place. There are virtually no resources for the growing number of disruptive elementary pupils.

Superintendent Carol S. Parham and the school board seem interested in correcting these deficiencies. They will not get the most substantial improvements -- in-class suspension and alternative schools -- for free. But unless school and elected leaders are willing to write off growing numbers of students, they have to start doing more than simply giving them what amounts essentially to a vacation.

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