Pepper spray discipline unaltered Marchione to tell school board of proposal tonight

June 18, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

The next Jodie Ulrich will face the same fate as her predecessor -- automatic expulsion -- if Baltimore County's school board approves a proposed student discipline policy tonight.

Despite weeks of controversy over the honor student's expulsion for carrying pepper spray -- and a court order that sent her back to class -- Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione wants to specifically name the spray as a weapon and list possession among the most serious offenses.

The current policy, criticized in recent months as too harsh and vague, bans "mace derivatives."

Marchione would not comment yesterday on his proposal. He said through a spokesman that he would first address the matter at tonight's board meeting.

Last month, in the face of criticism from the governor and others, Marchione refused to reinstate Ulrich. He called instead for a survey of school and public opinion on the penalties associated with pepper spray and other items.

A judge eventually ordered that the 17-year-old Chesapeake High School student be allowed back in school, but she missed 2 1/2 months of classes, the lacrosse season and her prom.

The opinion survey shows that the majority of respondents from schools and community groups favor keeping pepper spray in the most serious classification -- Category 3 -- mandating expulsion for violators.

Associate Superintendent Michael N. Riley said the survey confirmed the feelings of administrators who reviewed the discipline code for the coming year.

"We didn't have a great struggle of conscience," Riley said. "The two things coincided nicely. The staff thought there should be a Category 3, and there was strong public sentiment that pepper spray should stay in Category 3."

Among other proposed changes emerging from a review of the code: Destruction or vandalism of school property or personal property valued at $300 or more would be downgraded from Category 3 to Category 2 -- giving principals discretion. So would extortion of $300 or more.

The use of a pocketknife as a weapon would become a more serious, Category 3, offense.

Meanwhile, detonating an explosive device still would be listed in Category 2, while making a bomb threat would remain in the more serious Category 3.

Sparks are expected from at least one board member tonight -- Robert F. Dashiell, who with Gov. Parris N. Glendening condemned Ulrich's expulsion. Dashiell said principals should be able to weigh the circumstances and decide whether to suspend or expel a student carrying pepper spray.

He said too many offenses lead to expulsion -- about 20 in all -- including unintentionally striking a staff member intervening in a fight and possession of alcohol.

What happens, he asked, when a senior with a good record gets caught with a beer in the hours before graduation and is banished from graduation ceremonies?

"That would strike me as a little bit insensitive," he said. "We

have a legal obligation not to impose unreasonable punishment. "This idea of live by the rule, die by the rule, show no mercy -- there are people who believe that that public position somehow deters crime. I don't buy that. In a system where success ultimately is based on trust and confidence, fairness and objectivity are far more appropriate tools than whips and chains."

Board member Sanford V. Teplitzky said he hasn't decided whether pepper spray should mandate an expulsion. But he wants parents as well as and students to review the code -- and sign a document proving it.

JoAnn Osborne, Ulrich's mother, said she is pleased that pepper spray would be plainly spelled out. But she said administrators ,, are afraid to acknowledge that they learned a lesson. "Principals should have the discretion," she said. "They know their students better than the people sitting at [school headquarters]. I'm not saying pepper spray belongs in school.

"I realize that Jodie made a mistake and forgot, but I don't think they should throw a child's education away because she forgot. If they maliciously take it to school and try to do harm with it, that's another story."

The opinion survey asked two questions: Should schools have a list of offenses that require expulsion? , and If so, which offenses? About 117 More than 100 of 160 schools countywide responded, along with five community groups.

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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