Schools crack down on violence Offenses will stay on student's record from year to year

New rules start Dec. 1

Suspensions rising for attacks, threats, theft, vandalism

November 08, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A shoving match on the elementary school playground may not be the same as a high school student packing a gun, but both infractions would prompt a Carroll school principal to consult the same document -- new, tougher and more comprehensive regulations on violent acts.

The rules take effect next month, but most county schools already are abiding by them, say administrators who called a news conference yesterday to announce the tougher policy.

One big change is that students no longer start each new school year with a clean slate for all violations. A violent act or a drug or alcohol violation in middle school now stays on the student's record from year to year, which is significant because the punishment becomes more severe for each additional violation.

"Children can't learn when school is not a safe place to be," said Edwin Davis, the county's director of pupil services. "This is about maximizing learning."

Violent acts aren't typical in Carroll schools, he said, and he wants it to stay that way.

"Our concern is the culture is changing, and schools reflect that culture," he said.

In spite of successful efforts to reduce suspensions for infractions such as alcohol and drugs, suspensions are on the rise for physical attacks on staff members and students, threats, disturbing class, theft, vandalism and showing disrespect to staff members.

The regulations are the latest product of a task force and study group on discipline that was begun three

years ago. R. Edward Shilling, then superintendent, created the study group after elementary school teachers repeatedly warned that their young students were getting more violent and more disrespectful.

Carroll County schools years have provided alternatives to suspensions in recent years, such as Saturday school and in-school suspension. But local officials stand behind the traditional meth[See Violent, 3B] od of re-

[Violent, from Page 1B]

moving a violent student from school, whether for five days or for good.

Although suspensions aren't the norm for elementary school children in Carroll, they are increasing. About 10 percent of the 2,596 suspensions last year (for violent and nonviolent infractions) were at the elementary level.

Of the 25,000 students in Carroll schools, about 500 are getting suspended for violence, often more than once.

"That four or five hundred need to change their behavior," Mr. Simmons said. "We're also saying 'If you don't get help, you've got a problem, not us. We're going to have safe schools.' "

The toughness of the new regulations is paired with pervasive references to counseling and changing behavior, including a provision for the students to seek private counseling, to shorten a long suspension if the counselor sees progress, and to clear their records if they maintain good behavior for three years.

The school board approved the policy last month, to take effect Dec. 1. The delay will give staff,

students and parents time to become familiar with the changes, Mr. Davis said.

Here is what is different:

* A broader definition of what constitutes a violent act includes possessing a weapon and threatening a school staff member, even off school grounds.

* For all violent acts, the schools will notify law enforcement officials. Most schools have been doing that for the past year, but now it is official and consistently applied.

* Violations will accumulate on student records. A violent act committed in middle school will remain on the student's record. Penalties increase for second and third offenses.

* Alcohol and drug violations also will be cumulative on a student's record, although tobacco violations will not be. In the past, students started each school year with a clean slate for all violations.

* For every offense, there will be a disciplinary action and a requirement that the student see a school counselor or private counselor, such as at the nonprofit Youth Services Bureau, who would be allowed to communicate with the school.

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