Proposals made to prevent violence Schools task force urges better preparation

September 30, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

In response to a series of school shootings across the nation, a Baltimore County task force is recommending steps that range from creating alternative schools for violent elementary pupils to better preparing staff for crises.

The school district also should provide money to install closed-circuit television and buzzer systems in schools and create "critical incident teams" to respond to violent situations, concludes the school system's task force.

The recommendations -- outlined yesterday by the 25-member committee -- will be presented next week to County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione.

"We're not trying to answer all of the questions today on school violence, but we are trying to answer the superintendent's charge and put forward recommendations for him to consider on ways to help with prevention and responses," said Calvin Disney, a former school board president who was chairman of the committee.

The committee -- which includes county educators as well as representatives from such groups as the teachers union, students, parents, law enforcement and the county Department of Social Serices -- was created by Marchione in June after the fatal school shootings during the last school year in Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Marchione said he heard many questions from principals, teachers and students about Baltimore County's polices, prompting him to put together the group to look exclusively at serious threats and violence associated with such weapons as guns and knives.

The group's recommendations focus largely on creating and improving procedures for school staffs to better identify potentially violent situations and respond when such incidents occur.

"We need every school to have a crisis management plan, and it needs to be consistent throughout the system," said Wayne D. Thibeault, principal of Gen. John Stricker Middle School and chairman of one of the task force subcommittees. "When something happens, you don't have a lot of time to sit there thinking, 'What do I do next?' "

The task force recommended better communication between county agencies and the schools about potentially violent children -- including those students who are the subject of police investigations -- and a program for the fewer than 50 middle and high school students who are too violent and disruptive for Baltimore County's six alternative schools.

If accepted by the superintendent, the committee's recommendations would add to county policies and programs dealing with violence, such as one automatically expelling students who bring guns to school.

The district began a pilot program this fall to put police officers at two high schools to focus on building trust with students. The committee is recommending that the program be expanded to more secondary schools.

The committee's recommendations are likely to be discussed next month at the school district's sixth annual conference on safety.

So far, Baltimore County has avoided the violence that has troubled many school districts. Last school year, the district reported fewer than a dozen gun incidents -- among the fewest reported in Maryland's large school districts.

Still, those incidents that did occur were troubling to many parents and educators. For example, in May, a Hereford Middle School eighth-grader was arrested after he brought an unloaded semiautomatic handgun and eight bullets to school -- though there was no indication he planned to use the weapon.

Baltimore County isn't the only area school district to focus on student violence in recent months. In July, the Howard County school system put together its own team to study student violence.

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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