People reacting poorly to plague of bomb threats


November 30, 1997|By Brian Sullam

SOMEONE WITH a twisted and sick sense of humor dropped off a bomb threat last Monday at Lothian Elementary School. That was the day students were attending class there to make up for instructional time lost to seven earlier bomb threats.

The Lothian students lost another hour of instructional time while police searched their school.

The rash of bomb threats in Anne Arundel County is causing friction between various groups of people who are turning against each other rather than against the pranksters who are victimizing them.

Some parents of students in the six schools where class was held on Monday were quite angry that their children were in school while the rest of the county system was off, beginning Thanksgiving vacation.

Their children were being punished for the misdeeds of others, they felt.

Parham's motive

But punishment was not the motive for Superintendent Carol S. Parham's opening their schools.

The earlier bomb threats had cost these students nearly a day of instruction time, and she believed they should make it up.

Parents and the school system must agree if they are to overcome this plague of threats.

Making up for lost instructional time is not merely a matter of satisfying the state standard of 180 school days a year.

Many courses are tightly structured. The loss of a day or two may mean that at the end of the semester some material won't get covered.

In courses such as mathematics, these gaps can become problems later. It's difficult to understand trigonometry if the geometry class wasn't able to get to tangents and acute angles.

Limited options

Dr. Parham and the Board of Education do not have many options for making up lost classroom time.

They could schedule classes during vacation -- as occurred Monday.

Or, they could extend the school year, as happened several years ago when the county used more than its allotted "snow days."

The other alternative would be to lengthen the school day by a half-hour or so for a week or two to recoup the lost time.

The Carroll County school system used this method when it ran out of snow days a couple of winters ago.

It's understandable that students are not too happy about either arrangement, but less so when their parents object.

Perhaps Dr. Parham must make it more clear that attending school is not a punishment.

The fact that some parents link school attendance with punishment speaks volumes about education's low standing among too many families.

Education is not a penalty inflicted on hapless, innocent youths.

Indeed, watching television, playing video games and shopping at the malls are more fun that writing paragraphs about the meaning of Banquo's ghost in "Hamlet," trying to understand the importance of Avogadro's number in chemistry or remembering the difference between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution in U.S. history.

Sending the wrong message

But parents who complain about the make-up day are sending the wrong message.

They must impress upon their children that education is the most important activity of their young lives. Playing sports, hanging out with friends and working an after-school job are important, but obtaining an education should take precedence over all other activities.

Rather than directing their ire at the school system, parents should focus their anger on the people who are interfering with the schooling of their children.

Parents and school administrators must unite against those who phone in bogus bomb threats and disrupt education.

Putting aside the significant cost to education, parents as taxpayers should be upset about the cost of dealing with these threats also.

$500,000 for searches

Anne Arundel County government estimates that it has spent more than $500,000 to call out police search teams to handle the 52 threats this year.

More worthwhile activities may have to be curtailed to cover these escalating costs.

Threats of harsh punishment seem to have had little impact.

No sooner does the administration ratchet up the threat of imprisonment or harsh fines than a rash of bomb threats follows.

That is not to say that these acts should go unpunished, but that some other approach may be necessary to end them.

Communities must mobilize against people making bomb threats much the same way they organize against pushers selling drugs to their children.

Both groups are engaged in profoundly anti-social behavior.

Both can have long-term detrimental effects on young people.

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

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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