Dealing with disruptive youth Howard County: Saturday class for students who misbehave is reaching some, but not all.

October 23, 1997

NOT ALL CHILDREN who disrupt classrooms will respond immediately to the Howard County school system's crackdown on disruptive behavior. But the effort is bound to produce quantifiable improvements.

The initiative launched this year requires students who disrupt classes or skip school to attend three-hour classroom sessions on Saturdays.

The program's goal is two-fold: to discourage students from interfering with classroom instruction during the school day and to create a quieter atmosphere for students who come ready to learn.

The school system's Action Team for Disruptive Youth established a countywide disciplinary code and created a new position for someone to coordinate the effort.

This came in response to alarmingly high suspension rates in Howard schools. The program hopes to reform poor behavior in the early stages.

Success is probable, although it will not be absolute.

A Sun reporter's recent visit to a Saturday session showed that most students disciplined under the new program were embarrassed to be there. The well-defined guidelines on disruptive behavior and the accompanying penalties should make most of these children better students.

Of course, schools must administer the policy fairly and deal with the underlying problems for poor behavior.

Misbehavior and sluggish academic performance often are chicken-egg conundrums that require schools to help students improve in both areas.

It will be more difficult to make model students of children who classmates say, "just don't care" because "nothing scares them."

The Oakland Mills principal referred to a freshman whose list of disciplinary code violations is pointing him in the direction of the Gateway School, the county's alternative program.

Ideally, the new program will intercept such students before they reach that point but, unfortunately, some children will be immune to even the best efforts to correct their behavior.

It is encouraging that many students seem to be getting the message. Those who don't, however, cannot continue to disrupt learning for everyone else.

Removing these students from regular classrooms is difficult, but necessary to protect children who follow the rules.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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