Turning students into informers can be dangerous I...

LETTERS

March 04, 2001

Turning students into informers can be dangerous

I can't begin to express how wonderful it felt, on a cold, snowy morning, to read The Sun's editorial about students at Westminster High School tipping off the authorities to the wrongdoings of others ("The price of doing right thing," Feb. 23).

I lived through the horror of what this can do to a family when my daughter, at the age of 16, told me that she had critical information for the police regarding the well-publicized heroin death of 15-year-old Liam O'Hara about three years ago.

Despite the fact that the information was supposed to be anonymous, within days the word was out that my daughter had "ratted" on other kids -- and her days as an innocent, care-free young girl were over.

And, because the kids who were charged and under investigation were returned to the classroom very quickly, she became the victim of verbal abuse and physical altercations -- to such an extent that we finally had to pull her out of high school in the middle of her junior year.

Fortunately, she was able to enter college almost immediately, and now, at the ripe old age of 19, she has a 3.9 average and is preparing to take the law boards in June.

Of course, we are extremely proud of her integrity and courage through this whole ordeal (some of the kids subpoenaed refused to testify or changed their stories time and again), but nothing can change the harsh reality that she became a pariah when she "did the right thing."

Of course, all parents feel that their children are precious, but there is are no words to describe the heart-stopping, cold fear I experienced as I picked up the phone and heard a man's voice tell me, "Your daughter is dead."

Fortunately, my daughter was fine and the police were able to find the perpetrator of this threat and arrest him. He was ultimately sentenced to 90 days in jail for intimidating a witness.

But no one can give my daughter back those care-free days of high school; even her graduation day was marred by the fact that she was so frightened the police saw fit to have plainclothes officers watching for problems.

Even now, she fears walking through the local mall alone. Let's face it, most of the crime we see reported in the newspaper and on television is drug-related, and those drug addicts are desperate people.

Turning innocent students into informants is certainly not the answer -- and, indeed, it could prove deadly.

Shelley Kartman Sarsfield

Westminster

School's reward policy could create friction

Michael Olesker's column concerning payment for snitching at Westminster High School was excellent ("Cash reward turns every teen into a suspect," Feb. 20).

I agree that we do not want serious, unlawful actions in our schools. I agree that peer pressure used wisely, can be a positive deterrent to unacceptable behavior.

However, I question the cash reward and the method of judging guilt. Can we say "bounty"? Will this policy lead to a re-make of the various investigations of former President Clinton, albeit on a much smaller scale? Will it create disharmomy and distrust or foster a united student body?

It will be interesting to see how the long-term effects of this reward policy play out.

Tom Yingling

Westminster

Proposed sewer fees are much too vague

I wish to make several comments about the proposed amendments to county water and sewer fees ("Water, sewer fees on agenda," Feb. 22):

I do not see a provision for the absolute dedication of any funds received under the pretext of "system maintenance" to be spent on the same function. Thus, for all I can tell, the increased fees will go to the general fund or be spent on expansion of the system to encourage yet more residential development in South Carroll;

The proposed fee is too vague, leaving the amount to the discretion of the commissioners based on "such classifications as the county may establish...";

The vagueness of the proposed fee makes it impossible for landlords to assess the effects it will have on rent charges;

The unspecified fee has not taken into account the many citizens living on fixed incomes (i.e. Social Security) who may be forced from their homes because of the unspecified maintenance charges;

The bill says that unpaid fees "shall be a lien against the property." This creates the possibility of political retribution and unnecessarily provides an opportunity for condemnation by the county government -- a most severe concern for those of us involved in the property rights movement;

As the use of the "upkeep fees" is not designated in the ordinance, the amendment is in fact a tax increase;

Since the amendment will affect all property owners who are connected to county-operated sewers and water supply (for instance, many households and businesses in Hampstead are connected to the county-operated wastewater plant), it is only fair to the public and in the best interest of open government that a public hearing be held in affected areas before a vote is taken on the plan.

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