Student conduct pledge readied Voluntary code seeks respect, civil behavior

September 11, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County's parent, teacher and student leaders today will unveil a voluntary conduct pledge intended to reverse what they view as a rising tide of disrespect and misbehavior in the county's schools. The pledge is believed to be the first of its kind in Maryland.

Taking student conduct codes a step beyond rules against violence, weapons and drugs common to all school systems, the Howard pledge calls on the county's students to be courteous and punctual, not swear, to respect others' "personal space" and to follow directions.

"We've been too understanding of misbehavior -- the constant disruptions, the lack of respect, the lack of courtesy," said Karen Dunlop, president of the Howard County Education Association. "We need to restore a civil atmosphere to the classroom."

Many individual schools in Howard and throughout the state already have their own rules of proper student conduct, and some are far more specific than Howard's pledge. But officials at the Maryland State Teachers Association and the Maryland PTA Council say they are not aware of any similar system-wide pledges in the state.

Also different is that this conduct code has been created by parents, teachers and students -- not by a school system and school board.

Violating the voluntary pledge would carry no penalties, unless individual Howard schools were to adopt them. Nevertheless, Howard educators say, the pledge is needed.

Howard schools have lacked a consistent code of behavior for all students to follow, regardless of grade or location in the county. In the affluent suburban county -- long among the state leaders in student achievement -- teachers cite examples of students showing up at class and refusing to work, often talking back when they're chastised.

More than 1,600 Howard middle school and high school students -- from a total of about 19,000 students -- were suspended last year, an increase of 60 percent over the past three years, while enrollment grew 11 percent.

The number of suspensions for insubordination at Howard middle schools and high schools doubled in one year, up to more than 500 last year. At the high school level last year, insubordination was the leading cause for suspension; at the middle school level, it was the second most cited cause -- behind assaults. The Howard school board will be presented the pledge tomorrow, when members are expected to endorse it.

The pledge's creators say it puts into writing the community's standards for proper behavior and furthers the school system's goal of producing better citizens. They hope that because it was written independently of the Howard school administration and with the help of student government leaders, it will become widely accepted across the county.

"Our job as parents is to raise children and give them the standards of acceptable behavior," said Virginia Charles, president of Howard's PTA Council. "These are things on how to get along with other people. I don't know how anybody would object to this. These are the standards we want all human beings to follow."

The pledge has drawn strong support from the county's principals and school system officials. While not all schools plan to adopt it immediately, most principals say they'll use it -- even if they already have their own codes of behavior in place.

"Even though it's repetitive, it's a good opportunity to go over it again with families and students," said Oakland Mills Middle School Principal Dan Michaels, who will join the Columbia school's PTA in handing out the pledge to parents and students during back-to-school night. "It's another chance for us to

reaffirm our support for these basic behavior standards."

This morning's ceremonial signing of the pledge at Hammond Middle School will bring together the three groups involved in creating the pledge -- the county's PTA, teachers' union and student government -- to kick off a new fall "Conduct Counts!" campaign to promote appropriate behavior.

State educators will be watching closely. "While the number of disruptive students who are violent is actually a very small percentage of students, the general tone and tenor of schools is something that needs to be addressed," said Patricia Foerster, MSTA vice president and a member of a state task force on student discipline.

Howard principals, teachers and students say the biggest problem with student behavior is classroom "nuisances" -- interrupting teachers, showing up unprepared for work, swearing in hallways and in class.

"Just two or three students can disrupt a whole class," said Erin Murray, 17, a senior at Columbia's Hammond High School. "They know how to do enough so they're disruptive but stay out of real trouble."

At Oakland Mills High School, Principal Marshall Peterson envisions using the pledge with those students who misbehave -- as a contract among the students, their parents and teachers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.