Northern High throws out 50 Most dangerous, disruptive students to go, principal says

January 29, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

The Northern High School principal who garnered national attention last fall when she suspended two-thirds of her 1,800 students now plans to put 50 youths out of her building for good.

Alice Morgan Brown announced yesterday that 30 of the most disruptive students in her building will be reassigned to alternative programs in the Baltimore school system.

About 20 others -- all older than 16 and not in special education -- will be removed from the rolls of the public schools and encouraged to seek GEDs or job training.

All the affected students were chronic truants, dangerous behavior problems and cellar-dwelling academic performers, Brown said.

One of the students missed 50 days -- more than half the term -- last fall. All had failed at least three of their four courses in recent marking periods.

"These are students who are disrupting the safe educational environment we're trying to maintain here at Northern, and we're taking decisive action to remove them from this environment," Brown said.

"Most of these students have been suspended before, and at some point, enough is enough."

Brown's decision comes just months after she issued what she called a "cry for help" to gain control of her rowdy school and suspended nearly 1,200 of her students for three days. Her plea was answered by Morgan State University and WJZ-TV, which entered into a partnership with the school.

Yesterday's announcement is "Phase One" of the partnership's plans to repair the school's image -- long marred by reports of students roaming the hallways all day, drug and alcohol use inside the building, and violent fights -- and to boost its performance.

Future actions will include proposals to get more parents involved in the school, new teacher training and incentive programs, and curriculum restructuring.

"This decision is as much about the students who remain in this building," said Marcellus Alexander, vice president and general manager of WJZ-TV. "A small group should not be negatively impacting on the majority."

Brown's decision will take effect Feb. 3, when classes convene for this year's second semester. Parents of the affected students were notified by letter Monday and were asked to attend a meeting with Brown last night at the school. Only four parents went. Brown will hold another meeting with parents at the school tonight at 6: 30.

Brown's decision is being supported by interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller, who said some children simply must be BTC removed from Northern if the school is ever to make progress. He also said all principals have the power to remove incorrigibly disruptive students -- and they use it.

"I don't think it's that big of a deal. Principals do it all the time," Schiller said.

City school board member Dorothy Siegel, who suggested creating more alternative schools for disruptive students last fall as part of a school reorganization plan, said the actions at Northern are tragic but unavoidable.

"Is this a good response? I can't answer that," Siegel said. "But it's definitely the action of a school trying to get a hold on its milieu. And getting a hold on that school will call for us making very difficult decisions."

Siegel said that if her proposals for more alternative schools were implemented, there might be more options at Northern. Her program would address the needs of the 20 Northern students who are older than 16 and being removed from the system's rolls.

"In a well-equipped system, we wouldn't have to do this," Siegel said. "But in the situation we're in now, this is the best we can do. What we need to make sure of is that those children know we don't think of them as write-offs. They're our children. That's how we have to think about it."

Brown said the 30 students she transferred may have a chance to get back to Northern. If they complete a semester in their alternative assignments and meet other criteria, they may be eligible for readmission to Northern or another city high school.

The other 20 students may also have a shot at redemption.

"I don't want to be in the position of putting anybody out," Brown said. "That's not what I'm about. If any of these students can prove that they should be here, that they want to be here or have an interest in getting an education, then we might take them back."

But Brown spoke clearly about the conviction with which she made her decision.

"They know that life is all about choices, and the choices they have made have left us with one very clear option: to grant their wish to remove them from the conventional educational system."

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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