Schools consider security concerns

North County High incidents involving weapons are catalyst

Officials boost safety efforts

Some weigh impact of students who illegally attend in district

April 10, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

After a series of weapons-related incidents at North County High School, school system officials and parents have begun to debate publicly several safety issues, including campus security and the impact of students from other districts who illegally attend county schools.

Last month at the Glen Burnie school, a 17-year-old girl attempted to stab another student, two students brought knives on campus in separate instances, and another brought an unloaded BB gun. School officials say they have stepped up security measures and communication with students in an attempt to address safety and discipline concerns.

School officials began to institute changes in North County's security procedures even before last month's incidents. For example, the school required students to carry school identification cards.

More recently, to address security concerns, teachers and administrators have increased their presence in the hallways and issued more reminders about the consequences of misbehavior, Principal Patricia Plitt said.

The principal also has organized regular meetings with a group of students and administrators to dispel rumors and to foster dialog on campus.

"We're trying to be as forthright and honest with them as possible," she said.

The student group started with eight students but Plitt encouraged each to bring a guest to subsequent meetings. Now the group numbers about 50.

"We need to bring pride back to North County," she said.

So far, students asked about the possibility of installing metal detectors. School system officials have said that is under consideration, along with other measures, although the school board must approve them.

County school board member Michael J. McNelly said at last week's board meeting that he believes some discipline problems are caused by students who live in other districts - including Baltimore County and Baltimore City - but who have enrolled at North County.

"We've got to take care of this problem that we've got in our school system with other peoples' problems," said McNelly, a former police detective.

"My taxes should not have to pay for Baltimore City's problems," he added later.

McNelly reminded fellow board members that the board once funded an "enrollment verifier" for North County who probed cases of questionable student residency.

But now that the employee's workload includes investigations countywide, McNelly thinks the program deserves more resources.

"For a very small amount of money, you can verify the source of the problem," McNelly said.

Plitt acknowledged that students who live outside of the county have enrolled at North County. The school is close to Baltimore and Howard counties as well as Baltimore City and is within walking distance of the light rail line.

"[It] makes it difficult for families who are paying taxes to get the full benefits of the [education] resources that they have," she said.

However, "I can't say that every [out-of-district] kid is a problem," Pritt said.

Based on the verifier's findings in the 12 schools in the North County feeder system, about 50 students were removed or were in the process of being removed as of December, said Sal Maggio, a pupil personnel worker who works with three high school feeder systems in the north part of the county.

Pupil personnel workers investigate attendance and other behavior problems. Poor attendance is often associated with residency outside the county, he said.

"There are definitely some [discipline problems], and there are some that we will probably never know that they didn't live in our county," Maggio said.

However, he said that out-of-district students are more likely to be troubled, as parents in other districts often seek a new school because of problems elsewhere.

"They're going somewhere else because things aren't working out the way they thought they should be working out," Maggio said.

Security will be the theme of the next meeting of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association, a group that represents communities whose residents feed into the North County system.

The group has invited Jose M. Torres, assistant superintendent of student support services, and school board member Eugene Peterson to discuss alternative education and discipline policies at the group's meeting Wednesday.

The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the media center of Lindale Middle School, 415 Andover Road, Linthicum.

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