Wake-up call for tardy students Howard County: Strict, unpopular late policy gets results at Atholton and Hammond.

February 14, 1997

IF THE MORNING BELL at Atholton High sounds more like a bugle these days, it is by design. School administrators have come up with a radical new wake-up call to combat student tardiness.

With the efficiency of platoon sergeants, teachers shut their classroom doors in unison when the 7: 30 a.m. bell signals the start of a new school day. Students who fail to answer the call, whether they arrive at school late or loiter in hallways, are subject to disciplinary action.

This new regimen indeed is tough. But perhaps such a crackdown is needed to curb tardiness. Strict enforcement seems to be working at Atholton and at Hammond High School, where Principal Sylvia Patillo is using a similar policy.

One Atholton 12th grader suggested that some students, especially seniors who drive to school, take a lackadaisical view of the morning bell, arriving 20 to 30 minutes late. That does not happen as much under the new policy. "Now teachers are locking the 'jail cells' at 7: 30, so everyone is trying to get to class on time," says the senior, 18-year-old Josh Schimel.

Atholton students straggling in the hallways are advised to move quickly when they see Principal Roger Plunkett, a walking warning signal, in the moments before the 7: 30 a.m. bell rings. Those left outside when classroom doors close receive a warning for the first unexcused lateness, after-school detention for the second, and stiff penalties for third and fourth violations -- a 6: 45 a.m. detention. Those continuing to violate the policy could receive Saturday detention and suspensions.

This should serve notice on students such as the 16-year-old whose explanation for being late was that it took too long for her to finish her cigarette. Many students complain that the approach is too strict, but some of them understand why administrators feel compelled to adopt such measures. One says the policy helps prepare students for life beyond high school. Another says it will prevent students in their final year from contracting "senioritis."

Administrators included two warnings to students for flexibility; indeed, they must use common sense for legitimate excuses. As for students who wrestle with punctuality, this should provide added incentive each morning to stay a step ahead of the clock.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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