'Timeout' for school discipline

March 15, 1995

With stiff competition for limited money in the county's education budget, from classroom supplies to new buildings, it might seem like a mistake for the Carroll County Board of Education to ask for money to staff "timeout" discipline rooms in 10 schools.

Suspend the troublemakers and let them and their parents deal with the consequences, rather than burdening the school budget, would be one hard-line response.

That reasoning, however, misses the point that schools have always had to deal with problem pupils whose behavior does not justify the more drastic suspension-expulsion process. And getting kicked out of the school environment is just what some problem children prefer. The expense and inefficiency of teacher and administrator time devoted to dealing with these discipline duties is at the heart of the issue.

The Board of Education wants $75,000 to hire instructional assistants for timeout rooms in five elementary and five secondary schools.

These aides would staff the timeout rooms, where troublemakers would be sent to calm down after a disruption and to consider the consequences of their behavior. For longer terms of separation from normal classes, the room monitor assigns essays and questions designed to reform the pupils' attitudes.

The advantage is that a single aide would be on duty during the day, providing continuity in supervising the room and allowing higher-paid teachers to concentrate on their classroom instruction instead of spending an hour "baby-sitting" during their duty period. "We want to use our teachers to teach," declares Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education.

The idea is being tried by several Carroll County schools, which have used discretionary site-based funds to staff these disciplinary centers with assistants, most of whom have some teaching experience. In one case, Francis Scott Key High School in Union Bridge transferred money from the "lunchroom monitor" fund to pay for a timeout room supervisor.

Parents also seem supportive of the timeout room plan -- and the requirement that offenders of the conduct code reflect, in writing, on their wayward actions. Besides, it keeps kids who need to focus on classwork in a study-hall setting instead of, for instance, idly cooling their heels in a principal's office without guidance.

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