Parham makes good start on school bomb threats


November 16, 1997|By Brian Sullam

WE SHOULD NOT be surprised that on the day The Sun published a front-page article on Anne Arundel County school Superintendent Carol S. Parham's new get-tough policy on bomb threats, two more were phoned into schools.

Obviously, some kids in the county think disrupting classes is not only cool, but something to be done on a regular basis.

By mid-week, 43 bomb threats had been made in the 11 weeks since school opened. That compares to 37 all of last year.

Despite placing tracing equipment on school telephone lines, catching and prosecuting a number of suspects, the number of prank calls is accelerating.

Adults, who bear the burden of paying for the evacuations and searches that have cost the county more than $1 million, can't devise a method for ending these irksome crimes.

Frustrated with the amount of disruption and the mounting costs, Dr. Parham wants to ratchet up the cost to the culprits.

Tried as adults

She wants those schools that lost days to bomb threats to hold classes during vacation. She also wants any child 14 or older who is caught to be tried as an adult -- meaning that if convicted, he or she could receive 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Dr. Parham's new measures may not end all of these threats, but they are on the right track.

On Nov. 24, when the rest of county schools will be on vacation, students attending Lothian Elementary, Old Mill Senior, Old Mill Middle North, Old Mill Middle South, Southern Senior and Southern Middle will have to attend classes.

From her perspective, these students have to make up the instructional time lost when they evacuated classrooms to wait for bomb searches to be completed.

Students don't see things quite the same. To them, attending school during vacation is nothing more than punishment. (Too many parents agree with their children that school is nothing more than time spent between vacations -- a telling commentary on the sad state of education.)

Dr. Parham seems to understand that she can use this perception to her advantage.

By requiring the "innocent students" -- who had nothing to do with these threats -- to attend classes during vacation, Dr. Parham has cleverly made them into her allies.

Peer pressure often is responsible for most teen-hood anti-social behavior. However, if the students don't like attending school when others are out, they will discourage their peers from pulling this prank. They may be even so mad as to turn in the culprits.

How society operates

Critics can say it is unfair to punish the many for the sins of the few. As every adult knows, this is the way society operates. How many of us bristle when we have to produce two credit cards and a driver's license in order to write a check and then the clerk spends five minutes writing down the information just to pay for dry cleaning? The majority of us don't write bad checks, yet we all suffer thanks to the minority who do.

Putting off vacations

For those parents who complain their vacation plans are disrupted, they have some choices to make. They can take their vacations and their children can miss school. If they do this, they indicate that education is of secondary importance in their lives.

Or they could make the tough decision and put off vacation so their children can receive the instruction they missed. This would send an unequivocal message to kids that attending school is of paramount importance and nothing will interfere with it.

If enough parents would take that course of action, kids would act in their own interest. Students who want to go on family vacations won't tolerate the pranksters. If they ostracize them or turn them in, this plague of bomb threats might just end.

Dr. Parham also wants the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow prosecutors to try as adults juveniles 14 or older who make bomb threats. She is also asking for an increase in the fine for making a threat to a figure greater than the current $10,000.

At the moment, Dr. Parham believes students don't believe there are consequences to their actions. She wants to put real muscle behind the threats of punishment.

Under the juvenile justice system, most of the culprits are first-time offenders. As a result, their punishment is usually a slap on the wrist. By raising the ante and trying these kids as adults, it may dawn on them that phoning in a bomb threat is not a harmless prank.

Some people think that Dr. Parham's get-tough strategy has only worsened the problem. Indeed, the number of threats has increased, but it is possible that the number might be triple what it is had she not taken a tough stand.

If the weight of public opinion can be turned against drunken drivers, it certainly can be used against teen mischief makers who disrupt schools with bogus bomb threats.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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