Schools ask lawmakers for help dealing with disruptive students Proposal would give teachers, principals more power to discipline

February 08, 1996|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Teachers, principals and other school officials asked for help from lawmakers yesterday to deal with the growing problem of disruptive students in the classroom.

"We are seeing children at a much younger age with more significant behavior problems than we could have anticipated," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "Their offenses have become disruptive to all students."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed legislation designed to create a standardized, statewide code of behavior and give schools authority to deal more forcefully with behavior problems. It also seeks to create systems to prevent poor behavior.

In separate appearances before House and Senate committees yesterday, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said the proposal is a comprehensive approach that would give teachers and principals more power and responsibility.

"Some schools are terrific, and the teachers are training to know the rules," Mrs. Townsend said. "But in some schools, the teacher sends a disruptive student out of the classroom, and 10 or 15 minutes later, he's put back in. It sends a terrible message."

Roughly 85,000 suspensions were handed out last school year for disruptive behavior involving 51,000 students, or 6.6 percent of students enrolled in public schools statewide, according to state education officials.

Educators testified that the problem has worsened in recent years and younger students have engaged in worse behavior. An Anne Arundel County teacher said she suffered whiplash and a back injury last September when she was hit from behind by a 10-year-old she had scolded.

"Never in my 20 years of teaching did I expect to be hit by a student," said Antonetta A. Como, a 5th-grade teacher at Brock Bridge Elementary School in Laurel.

The governor's proposal would require the state board of education to establish a code of discipline that would set minimum standards of conduct and penalties. Counties would also have to adopt prevention programs. Supporters said that might include teaching students how to resolve conflicts amicably and instructing teachers how to deal with behavior problems.

The legislation would also:

* Give principals authority to suspend students for up to 10 days instead of the current five.

* Expand the rights of school officials to search student lockers. Instead of requiring evidence that a crime may have been committed, they would need evidence only that school regulations had been broken.

* Permit principals to seek up to $2,500 in restitution from students and their parents. A family that refused to pay could see their youngster referred to the juvenile justice system.

* Require teachers and other school personnel to be consulted before a student is returned to a classroom.

The governor included $500,000 in his proposed budget to help schools develop programs to prevent disruptive behavior, and another $2 million to modify classrooms used to contain students given in-school suspensions.

Legislators gave the governor's proposal a warm welcome. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's Democrat, called it "one of the best pieces of legislation I've seen this session."

However, some lawmakers questioned whether the bill goes far enough.

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