16 schools warned to reduce violence

Transfers are possible if city sites don't improve

August 25, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

State education officials have placed 16 Baltimore schools on probation for consistently high rates of violence over the past two school years - a designation that could allow parents to transfer their children to safer schools if the trend continues this year.

If administrators are unable to help students improve their behavior and lower suspension rates by next summer, the schools - most of them middle schools - will be considered "persistently dangerous," a label established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"This is a very sad day for all of us," Lynn E. Linde, who oversees student services and alternative programs for the State Department of Education, told the state school board yesterday. "I never dreamed I would have to come back before you to discuss enforcing this regulation."

For the past two years, state school officials have been collecting discipline data from Maryland's 24 school systems related to violent offenses, such as bringing a gun to school, starting a fire or assaulting someone.

Schools on the probation list have had rates of lengthy suspensions and expulsions that are at least 2.5 percent of the total student population for two years. The standard was developed with the help of various local school officials.

Two other systems, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, had problematic schools a few years ago but worked to improve student behavior and were able to stay off the state's list, Linde said.

Last summer, 20 Baltimore schools were warned that their rates of suspensions and expulsions were too high. Despite efforts to stem student misbehavior at those schools, only three improved enough to move off the state's radar. A fourth school was shut down for unrelated reasons.

State school board Vice President Dunbar Brooks questioned why the city school system is the only one in the state that has been unable to address the problem.

Of the 16 city schools on probation, seven already are required to offer parents the option of transferring out because of low academic achievement.

Only one Baltimore high school, Forest Park, made the list. School officials say that may be because of a high school reform effort over the past few years that has broken large schools into smaller, more manageable ones.

Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland said she was "very unhappy" about the schools being placed on probation, but she expressed confidence that her staff will be able to turn them around before they are tagged as "persistently dangerous."

"Ask us next year at this time if we've fixed it and I will assure you that we have," she said.

Copeland also said the data collected by the state - lengthy suspensions and expulsions as a percentage of the student body - may be masking important information, such as whether a small number of students are responsible for multiple offenses.

The figures also may have been inflated if administrators were "overzealous" in enforcing no-tolerance policies for misbehavior, said student services Officer Gayle Amos, who oversees discipline in city schools.

"They may be reporting as an assault two kids fighting," Amos said, adding that staff members may need better training in how to enforce school rules.

Despite their reservations about the data, city school officials said they will comply with the state's directive that each school create a plan to correct the trend.

The plans, due next month, are expected to require additional training for teachers on how to keep classrooms under control, and the development of methods to help students who are repeat offenders.

At Thurgood Marshall Middle, the school with the highest rate of violent incidents by the state's measure, such disciplinary actions totaled more than 10 percent of the student population.

Kevin Slayton, who lives near Thurgood Marshall, said he has been mobilizing the community to adopt the school.

Plans include a daily after-school academic program and parent volunteers monitoring school hallways and entrances, according to Slayton, who also heads the city's Parent and Community Advisory Board.

Asked about the possibility that the school could be designated "persistently dangerous," he said: "As a resident, I am not going to stand by and let that happen."

Jacqueline Ferris, principal of Lakeland Elementary/Middle School, which was placed on probation despite a slight decrease in its rate of violent suspensions and expulsions, said one problem administrators face is a shortage of ways to deal with misbehaving students.

"As much as I hate to say it, we really need more alternative [education] placements for persistently disruptive and dangerous students," Ferris said.

Sun staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

Campuses on probation

Percentage of expulsions or suspensions longer than 10 days for violent behavior *

School............................................2002-03 2003-04

Benjamin Franklin Jr. Middle............ 3.1 5.8

Booker T. Washington Middle........... 4.8 4.7

Calverton Middle................................. 4.9 6.6

Canton Middle.................................. 3.4 6.0

Diggs-Johnson Middle........................ 2.9 3.3

Forest Park High ................................ 3.3 5.2

Hamilton Middle ................................. 5.4 5.9

Harlem Park Middle .......................... 4.6 4.9

Highlandtown Middle ...................... 4.9 4.8

Lakeland Elementary/Middle ........... 3.0 2.6

Lombard Middle ................................... 2.8 6.9

Morrell Park Elementary/Middle ............. 2.9 2.7

Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle .............. 6.8 8.8

Robert Poole Middle .............................. 3.2 4.4

Thurgood Marshall Middle ..................... 7.2 10.7

Winston Middle ......................................... 2.7 4.1

* Percentage represents number of disciplinary actions divided by total student body.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.