High school tip program faces review

System of rewards for reporting peers' violations under fire

Legal questions raised

Board of Education asks superintendent to make evaluation

March 18, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Board of Education members, concerned about the implications of paying students to do what they called "the right thing" in tipping off administrators to illegal activity in school, asked the superintendent last week to assess a 7-week-old program at Westminster High School and recommend next month what should be done with it.

Board members also agreed to an appeal by Westminster High Principal Sherri-Le W. Bream, who asked them to allow members of the school's student government association who initiated "Project TIPS" to present their assessment at the April school board meeting.

The program offers students up to $100 - out of the Student Senate's coffers - for information about students with drugs, alcohol and weapons on campus. The program has netted six arrests or suspensions for drug possession, setting toilet paper on fire in a boys bathroom and setting off a false fire alarm.

Interim schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has said he wants to review the program, which was a school initiative and did not require the approval of his office or the school board.

Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes also has expressed concern that school officials have not considered the legal implications of the program if a case goes to court.

Some students at Westminster High have compared the reward program to being bribed or paid to "narc out" friends, while others say it's a good idea for the school to do whatever it can to keep drugs and crime out of classrooms.

Acknowledging that it's not a "perfect program," Bream nevertheless asked the board to give her students a chance to explain what they were trying to do and how it has worked.

"I ask you to let them evaluate it and make a recommendation to you," she said. "The students are concerned that the rug, so to speak, is going to be pulled out from under them when they were trying to take the initiative to make their school safe."

Board member C. Scott Stone asked Bream to come back with any data that proves that paying students for tips - a practice he said "is no different than paying students for good grades" - is effective and worthwhile.

Bream responded that offering money to students who volunteer information about student wrongdoing is a byproduct of today's society.

"The reality is that for some people, that is the only motivation," she said. "And in some cases, the students for whom that is the case are the ones who have information about the most horrific instances."

"You'll have to substantiate that for me," Stone said.

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