Atholton closes door on tardy students After 7: 30, late arrivals face queries, penalties

February 06, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The classroom doors of Columbia's Atholton High School are closing promptly at 7: 30 a.m. these days -- and students still loitering in the halls are learning a lesson about promptness.

"We want instruction to begin at 7: 30, not at 7: 35 or 7: 40," says Atholton Principal Roger Plunkett. "Every minute of instruction is valuable."

Under a policy begun with the start of the second semester last week, Atholton teachers close their classroom doors as soon as the bell rings at 7: 30. Students caught in the halls -- and those who arrive at school late -- are required to go to the front lobby to get a pass from school administrators and may face punishment.

Student tardiness is a problem at many of Howard County's high schools, say teachers and administrators, though there is no data on its incidence.

Many blame the tardiness on county high schools' 7: 30 a.m. starting time, which they say is too early for many teen-agers to be prompt and alert. The early opening time is part of a system of staggered starting times for elementary, middle and high schools, a move by the school board that saves several hundred thousand dollars a year in transportation costs.

To be sure, all county high schools have policies regarding tardiness, but rarely are they enforced in the rigid, uniform way that's occurring at Atholton.

Hammond High School has been trying a similar policy, and both schools seem to be successful in curbing tardiness, at least so far.

"It's working," acknowledges Atholton senior Josh Schimel, 18, who, like many students, doesn't like the new policy.

In the past, some students -- particularly seniors who drive to school -- arrived at class as late as 7: 50 or 8 a.m., often with little consequence, Josh says. "Now teachers are locking the 'jail cells' at 7: 30, so everyone is trying to get to class on time."

Improving environment

The policy regarding tardiness was suggested by Atholton's school improvement team -- a group of teachers, administrators, parents and students who help set school policy -- to improve the learning environment.

At 7: 25 each morning, Atholton's teachers take their assigned places at their classroom doorways to remind students that it is almost time to come in.

Plunkett walks the hallways, sometimes with a cup of coffee in one hand and a yardstick in the other.

He reminds students to remove their caps to conform to the school dress code and urges them to hurry to class.

By 7: 30, Plunkett and several other administrators and secretaries are in the front lobby, waiting for the bell to ring. When it does, classroom doors throughout the school are closed in unison.

Barrage of questions

The handful of unlucky -- or slow-moving -- students caught in the hallways or still making their way from the school parking lot face a barrage of questions in the lobby.

"Why were you late?" "Do you have a note?" "What were you doing?" assistant principals ask the students.

After a warning for the first unexcused absence, penalties include an hour of after-school detention for the second violation and morning detention beginning at 6: 45 a.m. for the third and fourth offenses.

Students who repeatedly violate the policy face other punishments, including Saturday school and suspension. (Those who skip school entirely or who arrive very late to school are subject to stricter penalties, at administrators' discretion.)

A week into the new policy, 10 students who were late one recent morning received warnings -- as well as a reminder of the penalties they will face for further violations.

Differing views

"I don't like this at all," says junior Jody Grandier, 16, who said she was late because she took too long coming inside after smoking a cigarette off school grounds. "This is way too strict."

Other students, including ones who expect they will be tardy at least once or twice this semester, agree the policy is strict but support its goals.

"It's going to keep seniors from having senioritis," says senior Brian Hall, 18. "If you're late, you're going to have to come up with a real excuse."

Senior Isaac Treem, 17, agrees: "In life or when you have a job, you can't be tardy. They're teaching us what we need to know for later. But it seems a little tough, because sometimes there are traffic accidents on [Route] 32 that keep you from making it to school on time."

For teachers and administrators, the policy -- to teach students the value of being on time and to stop wasting instructional time -- is long overdue

"It's helping create a more disciplined learning atmosphere," says Marilyn Splete, a social studies teacher. "It's not a really big problem, but it's one of those things where you set a rule and then make it clear to the students that everyone is going to enforce it."

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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