6 Arundel schools make up lost time Many pupils absent

1 bomb note received

November 25, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Thirty percent of students at the six Anne Arundel County schools with the most bomb threats skipped out yesterday on an extra day of school that was supposed to help compensate for lost instruction time.

One of the schools -- open because students have missed class time because of seven evacuations for bomb threats this year -- received its eighth threat yesterday and missed more time.

Schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham called the makeup day a success. At least one parent, though, described it as a "stupidity act."

Normally, Anne Arundel County schools would be closed all week -- one day for parent-teacher conferences, another for in-school teacher training, and the rest for vacation. But because bomb threats have cost hours of instruction time for students, Parham decided to open the schools that lost the most time to bomb threats so they could catch up.

The six schools have a total population of about 6,720. Those students have lost about two hours with each bomb threat as they stand outside waiting for firefighters, police, teachers and bomb-sniffing dogs to comb the schools for explosives. The threats have cost about $500,000 in county police time since September.

Attendance at the open schools yesterday ranged from 68.3 percent to 73 percent. Lothian Elementary and Southern Middle, both in Lothian, and Southern Senior in Harwood -- three schools within five miles of each other south of Annapolis -- all were open. The others -- Old Mill Senior High and Middle Schools North and South -- are in one sprawling building in Millersville. If one school has a bomb threat, all three must evacuate.

Lothian Elementary, the elementary school with the most threats, had 28 percent of its students absent yesterday. "That's more than double" the normal rate of absenteeism, said Principal Max Muller.

As the attendance secretary was tabulating that absenteeism figure, another bomb threat note was found about 1: 40 p.m., forcing the school to evacuate.

Because yesterday was cold and windy, students trudged from Lothian Elementary to nearby Southern Middle, stayed there for about 30 minutes, and walked back once the school was checked and no bombs found.

"They were out for about an hour," Muller said, adding that he could not divulge the contents of the note because it could impede the police investigation.

Lothian and the other five schools received 35 of the 52 bomb threats that have been called in or transmitted in writing to county schools since September. All of the threats have been false, according to school officials.

Many students reported that they would not be in school yesterday because of other plans, or wouldn't attend to protest what felt like a penalty against thousands of students instead of the few involved in making the threats.

After six of the county's 127 schools opened yesterday, Parham said the remedy worked.

"I think that's very good," she said of the attendance. "I've received overwhelming support for school being open, from parents, and even from some students."

She said many factors could account for the absenteeism. "It's flu season [and] parents may have made other decisions for their young people to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday certainly, that should be factored in," she said.

She visited Southern Middle and Lothian Elementary (before its bomb note) and found students focused and concentrating.

But Frederick C. Guill, the father of two students at Old Mill Senior High School in Millersville, said his children found something different during a day he called the "Make up the numbers for the State Stupidity Act."

His children, ages 15 and 16, reported that they had an in-school choice of watching a movie, cutting out stars from paper, or catching up on work that was past due.

The mandate, he said, interfered not only with students' vacation plans but also their parents' plans. In using the back-to-school tactic, he said, "Dr. Parham was very much in error."

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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