School suspends pupil for threats

Boy had table knife in backpack

parents seek more safeguards

March 17, 2000|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

A kindergartner who took a table knife to Worthington Elementary School was suspended for four days after he threatened a classmate, and the parents of the victim worry that school officials do not do enough to prevent minor playground scuffles from escalating into violence.

Ken Segal, whose 5-year-old son was threatened by his classmate March 3, said that although steps have been taken to ensure that all the children in the Ellicott City school are safe, he would like to see permanent measures taken to teach children conflict resolution.

"It does not seem like it is proactive enough," Segal said. "They need an ongoing curriculum and not just a one-time program after something like this happens."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Howard County edition of The Sun on Friday incorrectly identified as a boy a Worthington Elementary School pupil caught with a kitchen knife. The child is a girl. The Sun regrets the error.

But Patti Caplan, Howard County schools spokeswoman, said Principal Yvonne Harrison has gone well beyond what is needed to ensure safety. She would not confirm the child's suspension, but she did say that an additional aide has been assigned to the kindergarten class.

"Since all of these incidents across the country," Caplan said, referring to the recent shooting of a first-grader by a classmate in Michigan and the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., last year, "our principals take these things very seriously."

On March 10, Harrison met with parents of children in the morning kindergarten class. The dispute between the two classmates had been brewing for a few days in the classroom and on the school bus. In a letter dated Monday, Harrison told parents that a monitor had been assigned to the bus that the children ride each day to detect and prevent conflicts.

Guidance counselors have spoken to all the children about appropriate behavior and following school rules, and Harrison encouraged parents to talk to each other when problems arise. School psychologists are exploring a new program that would teach children how to deal with bullies, the letter said.

Caplan emphasized that the child never took the knife out of his backpack and that the other child was not injured.

Weapons turning up in Howard elementary schools are not uncommon, school statistics show. Last year, 13 children were suspended for taking a weapon other than a gun -- such as a knife -- to school. None was found with a gun.

In 1998, two children were suspended for taking a gun to school and 17 were suspended for bringing in another type of weapon. In 1997, one child was suspended for taking a gun to school and 10 were suspended for bringing in another kind of weapon, statistics show.

Caplan said statistics are not kept by grade, but it is unlikely that a kindergartner has been caught with a weapon before.

According to the Student Code of Conduct, any child caught with a weapon can be suspended or expelled at the principal's discretion. Caplan said any weapons offenses also have to be reported to Howard County police, and this one was.

Segal said his son and the other child had been arguing for several days before the incident. As they rode home on the school bus, the other child would spit on or kick his son. Sometimes his son would do the same in retaliation or ignore the classmate. He said he had no idea this was occurring until much later.

Segal said he found out from school officials that March 2, the other child told his son that he was going to slit his throat and then told other classmates to bring their knives to school the next day.

Teacher Peg Costello found the knife in the child's backpack after she overheard him asking others if they had brought their knives to school, according to Segal.

"The long-term solution is not in place," he said. "It's my opinion that the communication between parents and the school system is not good. We have heard so many instances that this child was abusive to other kids and the other children were also scared to be on the bus with the child."

He said the bus driver did not immediately tell school officials what had been going on or about all of the instances.

"And the ones [conflicts] that did get back to the school were not reported back to me and my wife," he said. "The person driving the bus is the only safeguard for our children, and he has to pay attention to driving the bus."

Segal said he has met with the parents of the other pupil and knows they are not pleased with the behavior of their child. But still, he worries that not enough is being done to prevent violence in schools.

"It's scary," he said. "We had it easier when we were growing up. The television shows we watched did not have the blatant and graphic violence that they do today. So many of the shows now solve problems with violence."

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