Official wants to end pay for high school informants

Westminster program rewards students' tips

April 13, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker called yesterday for changes to a Westminster High program that pays students for information about illegal activity on campus.

He said he would allow the school to continue its program through the end of the school year. But next year, the schools chief wants Westminster High's student government to drop the financial rewards offered by Project TIPS or pass that responsibility to the county's Crime Solvers unit, which is used on an as-needed basis.

"I am opposed to paying for tips, but this program is now much broader than paying for a tip," Ecker said in an interview yesterday. "I like the fact that the students are interested in getting [Crime Solvers] up and running again. And I like that they want to go to the elementary and middle schools to meet with students" about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and to encourage them to tip off administrators to threats to their safety.

"But I also think [the high school students] are trying to tell us something," Ecker added. "And that's, `Hey adults, what you're doing is not working.' We do have a problem, and we do need to solve that problem."

Ecker's comments were made a day after the Carroll County Board of Education heard a presentation from members of Westminster High's student senate, who defended their program as an effective deterrent that has lessened drug dealing and the discussion of drugs in school.

Initiated about 10 weeks ago after Westminster students and faculty brainstormed about ways to improve student achievement and school safety, the program offers rewards of up to $100 to students who inform administrators of classmates with drugs, alcohol or weapons on campus.

As a result, at least six students have been arrested or suspended for drug possession, setting toilet paper on fire in a boys bathroom and setting off a false fire alarm. A less tangible benefit has been the drop in students joking or bantering about drug use and getting drunk, student leaders told the board Wednesday night.

But the program also touched off concerns among some educators, parents, students and others beyond the school community about the ramifications of paying students to police their hallways and balancing those worries with the need to keep classrooms safe.

The school board asked Ecker last month to assess the program and recommend what to do with it at the meeting this month. But none of the board members asked Ecker for his evaluation Wednesday night, and he did not offer one.

"Nobody asked me, and my mommy always told me that the spouting whale gets harpooned," Ecker said yesterday. "I learned to say as little as possible to avoid getting harpooned."

Ecker also said he didn't speak because his recommendation mirrored the assessment offered by Westminster students and Principal Sherri-Le W. Bream. They told the board that they hope the financial rewards connected with the program become unnecessary as high school students work to change the way younger pupils view peers who turn in their classmates. Many students interviewed at Westminster High shortly after the introduction of Project TIPS said they were worried about the perception of being a squealer or a snitch.

"There's been a lot of concern about where's the personal responsibility we should be working with students on accepting and just coming forward voluntarily with information regarding their personal safety at school and doing the right thing?" Bream said. The students "recognize that this is where we ought to be. However, they also recognize that we have to try to appeal to everyone in the school and provide all the motivators we can when it comes to school safety."

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