Violence in the schools Elementary principal was right to deal firmly with knife incident.

March 19, 1996

WHEN AN elementary school student in Sykesville allegedly used a homemade knife to threaten two classmates a week ago, the principal immediately called the police. While the image of a 9-year-old boy being arrested at his school, charged as a juvenile with assault and battery, and then taken for fingerprinting might have stirred feelings of sympathy from those who knew the youngster, the school's response was not overly harsh.

The youth told a friend of the family that he had found the weapon half a pair of scissors with tape wrapped around one end on the playground. He and other youngsters were "horsing around" and no one was in danger, the boy had told Gloria Horneff, principal at Piney Ridge Elementary. The victims, however, had been approached separately and "were very frightened," Dr. Horneff said and understandably so.

Adults should know better than to dismiss such behavior as "horsing around." Child's play does not involve actual weapons. A boundary is crossed when the actions of one child endanger others. And appropriate action must be taken. That is what the dialogue going on nationally and locally about violence in the schools has been about.

The day after the arrest, Dr. Horneff held a faculty meeting to determine ways to increase supervision at the school. She also sent a letter home to parents describing the situation. She was right to deliver a strong message to parents and students alike that violent behavior is unacceptable. Not surprisingly, many parents called the school to voice support for her actions. A countywide policy set last year requires principals to involve the police in situations involving weapons. Such a policy was necessary to ensure that incidents are handled uniformly.

If children do not learn early that certain actions have consequences, the lesson may be lost forever. Something is terribly wrong if a youngster cannot differentiate between having fun and taunting another child by holding a knife inches from his face.

If not for a student who informed his teacher, the act may have gone unaddressed. The young eyewitness was clear-headed enough to see the potential danger. Skeptical parents should take note.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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