School policy on discipline under review Balto. Co. principals meet with Marchione about code of behavior

Pepper spray addressed

2 expulsions prompt superintendent's re-evaluation request

April 30, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki and Marego Athans | Joe Nawrozki and Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Criticized by public officials, parents and some educators over the expulsion of two students for carrying pepper spray in school, Baltimore County's school superintendent said yesterday that he is re-evaluating the district's disciplinary policy.

Dr. Anthony G. Marchione said he summoned the county's 26 high school principals to a late-afternoon meeting in Towson to discuss the code of behavior, including the classification of pepper spray as a weapon.

He declined to provide details of the meeting, saying he would discuss the matter with his staff and comment further this week.

But he and others at the meeting said one topic was the code's classification of offenses, which lumps the protective spray into "Category 3" with guns and knives. That leaves school officials no choice but to expel students who carry it, even for self-defense.

"I think, personally, there must be a Category 3 to have a safe, orderly environment of schools," Dr. Marchione said. "The question is, what do we include in Category 3?"

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, parents and teachers have criticized the discipline policy -- brought to light after the recent expulsion of an honor student.

But several principals at the meeting said they supported Dr. Marchione's position of "zero tolerance" for violations of the regulations.

Last month, expulsions were triggered by a pair of nearly identical incidents.

Jodie Ulrich, 17, a junior, honor student and three-sport athlete at Chesapeake High School, was expelled after she brought a pepper spray canister to school unintentionally and a friend discharged it in the cafeteria. Jodie kept the spray on her key ring for protection because she worked nights at a county shopping mall.

A school board panel upheld Jodie's expulsion; her family is appealing the decision to the state Board of Education. The other student, who discharged the spray, was expelled and is not appealing the decision.

County officials have expedited a review of Jodie's case because of what they called "special circumstances." She can return to classes as a senior in September.

Also in April, Kelly Butcher, 13, an eighth-grader at Pikesville Middle School, was expelled after a classmate picked up her key chain, shook the canister and sprayed it. Kelly, also appealing her expulsion, kept the spray for self-defense because some boys had bothered her near school.

Meanwhile, JoAnn Osborne, Jodie's mother, said last night that she will meet with an attorney this week to discuss filing a lawsuit against the school system.

"My daughter was not given due process," Mrs. Osborne said. "They dealt with her like she was a common criminal. She made a mistake and admitted to it. Now the harm has been done. I have a different child here. She is so hostile and negative."

Principals who attended yesterday's meeting said mitigating circumstances should not be part of student discipline.

"The discussion needs to be on what was done rather than who did it," said Robert M. Tomback, Catonsville High School principal.

Added Mary Cary, principal at Carver Center for Arts and Technology: "It is critical kids can learn in a safe environment. All of the principals at the meeting support a consistently applied code of conduct in dealing with students."

Said Jacqueline H. Pipkin, principal at Parkville High School: "We have to be real specific about keeping our schools safe and orderly. The spray is illegal for minors and the more specific we are, the better they understand."

County school officials would not comment on the cases of the expelled students. Dr. Marchione said, "There have been discussions about our behavior policy and it needs an explanation."

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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