In wake of teen's death, schools need parents' assistance

On High Schools

September 28, 2005|By MILTON KENT

As any parent will tell you, the most delicate act they do in raising their kids is finding the appropriate balance between letting them discover the world and being absolutely frightened out of their skulls over letting them take the journey.

The inclination, of course, is to place them in a John Travolta-like plastic bubble that envelops them every second of the day, no matter where they go. But since we know that there isn't that much plastic in the world, not to mention that kids have to grow and develop, that solution isn't practical.

Because children spend a lot of their time in schools, we insist that education officials take care of our kids, as well as educate, feed and baby-sit them, during the course of the school day and during extracurricular sessions as well.

In that vein, Montgomery County school officials have a seemingly impossible task, in the wake of the death of a 15-year-old Rockville High freshman at a football game Friday. They'll have to figure out how to make school facilities more secure while allowing for the kids to enjoy the moment.

Obviously, the first responsibility of any parent or adult who has supervision over children is to take whatever reasonable steps necessary to make the environment safe.

Montgomery officials are reportedly considering adding more police and security at games, and that seems to be prudent under the situation.

But, in the rush to make things safer, county leaders have to strike the right chord and should refrain from stifling the kids from enjoying the high school experience, which is perhaps the most pure athletic feeling most of us ever get in life.

They can't make their stadiums look like Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, where New York police patrolled the field at Yankee Stadium, looking more like the cavalry than law enforcement officers.

Worse yet, James Hubert Blake High School, where Kanisha Neal was stabbed to death in the school parking lot, cannot look like Randallstown High did in March after a boys basketball playoff game with Douglass, when Baltimore County police officers turned out post-game in what felt like full riot staffing to ensure the peace.

Admittedly, tensions were high at Randallstown, given the May 2004 shooting after school and the rivalry that has developed between Douglass and Randallstown. And the peace was certainly ensured, but at what price? The kids and adults were made to feel as if they were criminals, and that's no memory to carry from the wonder years.

Montgomery officials are also considering shifting some football games from Friday night to Saturday afternoon. Though that seems sensible on its face, it's a move that carries a potential problem.

Many school systems that play on Friday find that their attendance is larger than on Saturday, because parents who spend Saturday shuttling kids to practices and recreation league games or doing errands have Fridays available to watch older kids play football.

True, Saturday games played in the daylight tend to be safer, but they also make less money because of lower attendance. For already financially strapped school systems, giving up a big chunk of a lucrative gate is something to be considered.

In the end, though, the best solution might be a third option Montgomery school leaders are pondering, namely getting parents more involved.

Though they are challenged at times to the point of breaking, our school systems are doing a remarkable job with our kids, turning out smarter and more gifted students with each passing year. Still, the schools aren't perfect and they could use more of our help, and not just the kind where we throw dollars at a problem, hoping it will be solved.

Some of the solution comes in good, old-fashioned point-to-point communication. In the best scenario, no one knows a kid better than his or her parent, and if an adult can glean information that, disseminated to the right officials, might stave off one of these incidents and keep a child alive, then everyone turns out a winner.

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