Governor criticizes student's expulsion Glendening suggests controversy may slow Balto. Co. school aid

April 27, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF Staff writers Frank Langfitt and Mary Maushard contributed to this report.

Pressure mounted yesterday for Baltimore County to reverse the expulsion of a high school honor student, as Gov. Parris N. Glendening suggested that the controversy could damage future efforts to get state school construction money for the county.

After visiting Middle River to discuss school construction funding, he said, "I can't order anyone to do anything. But we just went over there with $15 million and we have been very supportive of education, and if I express concerns that I know people throughout the state of Maryland have then I would hope the local officials would look very carefully at it."

Jodie Ulrich, 17, was expelled from Chesapeake High School in Essex last month after she forgot to remove a canister of pepper spray from her key chain. Another student released some of the spray in a cafeteria, and both were expelled for violating county rules, which classify the protective spray with guns and knifes.

HTC The punishment levied against Jodie, a National Honor Society member, a three-sport athlete and a hospital volunteer who also worked a mall job at night, has sparked criticism from teachers, elected officials and county residents. And now, the governor.

"When something like this happens," Mr. Glendening said, "I think most average citizens just wring their hands and say, 'This just doesn't make any sense.' "

Added County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, "It's a policy that shocks us all. We first have to care for the girl, then look to change the policy, which I have said in the past I disagree with."

He said he would like the expulsion reversed quickly, allowing Jodie, a junior, to return to school before September.

School board member Robert F. Dashiell, who also has called for restructuring the county's inflexible discipline code, said Jodie could be reinstated "in a very, very short time if somebody has the guts to do it" -- referring to Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione.

But school officials didn't budge.

"The family has appealed to the state board [of education]," said county schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler III. "While the

governor has injected himself into the case with the county executive, we appreciate our disagreement" with them.

Meanwhile, Jodie has missed several important tests, her junior prom and the lacrosse season. And though she will be reinstated as a senior in September, the expulsion will stay on her student record, which she fears might hurt her chances of getting into college.

A spokeswoman for the General Assembly's library said yesterday that possession of any protective spray by minors has been a misdemeanor since 1994. If convicted, a minor could face $1,000 fine and three years in prison. Selling the spray to minors carries the same penalty.

But Jodie, like many women who carry aerosol canisters of the irritant for self-defense, apparently did not know about the law.

"Jodie didn't know, and I didn't know, about pepper spray being illegal," said her mother, JoAnn Osborne. "If that's the case, then people should have to show identification when purchasing it."

Many discount stores, women's fitness centers and sporting goods outlets sell the spray.

Yesterday, the governor visited the aged Martin Boulevard Elementary School, which could receive part of the $15 million in state funds for new construction in the county.

But before ceremonies celebrating that funding, state and county officials were confronted by Marlene Wright, 62, who distributed handwritten letters urging them to reinstate her granddaughter to school.

"[Mr. Glendening] was awful nice," Mrs. Wright said later. "The governor sympathized fully with me. He's almost positive she'll get reinstated."

Mr. Ruppersberger and Nancy Grasmick, state superintendent of education, were also given letters. Mrs. Wright said she has written to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, too.

Jodie is "not a hoodlum with a gun; she made a mistake," the grandmother said.

Ray Feldmann, the governor's deputy press secretary, said Mr. Glendening stands firm on swift action against students who take guns, knives or other weapons into school, but believes these rules should be enforced with common sense.

School board president Calvin D. Disney was unavailable for comment; vice president Paul S. Cunningham did not respond to phone inquiries.

Mr. Dashiell said no formal discussion of the case has taken place among the 11 board members.

"I wouldn't be surprised if this student weren't back in school in a very, very short time," he said. "But somebody in authority in the system has to have the guts to do that because it's the right thing to do."

He said Dr. Marchione has such authority.

"That's where the guts comes in," said Mr. Dashiell. "If he said to reinstate that student, nobody on his staff would disobey his order."

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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