Tossing out school hooligans Expulsions: Confronted by rise in discipline problems, educators are getting tough.

November 13, 1997

SCHOOLS HAVE an increasing need and a great responsibility to get tough with student violence. Discipline problems in schools are on the rise, frightening and frustrating teachers.

In many systems, administrators are trying to find alternative classroom space for misbehaving students. Other officials, having lost patience, are tossing them out of school.

New York City has begun expelling students 17 or older who carry guns to school. In London, England, expulsions quadrupled in five years. But you don't have to look beyond our region for horrific examples of misbehavior.

In Howard County last spring, a teacher died of a heart attack after breaking up a schoolyard brawl. In Harford, a student smeared human excrement on a peer on a school bus. In Anne Arundel, the superintendent shortened the Thanksgiving break at some schools to make up time lost to a rash of prank bomb threats.

The majority of students who are law-abiding, their parents and teachers are fed up with the hooligans. They demand and deserve to see acts of aggression met by sound, swift justice.

A good example occurred this week in Howard. Three Long Reach High School students were expelled -- a fourth case is pending -- for a brutal beating that shattered a classmate's jaw. As many as seven students punched and kicked the 17-year-old, apparently in a dispute over a quarter. Principal David A. Bruzga is to be commended for moving immediately against the alleged perpetrators.

The three expelled students can petition for reinstatement in 45 days. The rules are tougher in Anne Arundel and Carroll counties, where expelled students can appeal to return after a year. In Baltimore County, punishment lasts two semesters in most cases. Baltimore City does not expel students.

Expulsion is not a simple solution. Children booted from the classroom may have too much unstructured time on their hands. Socially deviant youths can easily grow up to be socially deviant adults. That is why state law requires some form of instruction for all residents younger than 16.

School officials, though, increasingly are being given no choice but to deal firmly with the worst offenders. Their foremost responsibility is to those who want to learn.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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