Keeping students safe

April 05, 2007

Amid parental and community concern about youth violence and gangs, Baltimore's school system has come up with a safety plan that aims to reduce offenses committed in and around schools by creating a more supportive learning environment within them.

The plan, which will be presented at neighborhood forums in the next few weeks, also relies on parents and community residents to help create positive environments outside of school that support academic success. It's a comprehensive, thoughtful approach that deserves support as it heads for a likely final vote by the school board next month.

Schools continue to be plagued by assaults on students and staff, although arson incidents have decreased. About 30 schools - mostly middle and high schools - have gang members, a number that school police would like to see reduced, if not eliminated.

To prevent more gang and other violent activity, interim schools CEO Charlene Cooper Boston included nearly $3 million for additional school police officers and hallway monitors in next year's budget. It's a sensible investment as studies show that many school behavioral problems can be corrected by improving school practices, such as ensuring that cafeterias and hallways are supervised adequately.

The plan also includes $700,000 for in-school suspensions in middle schools that can keep troublemaking students in the schools rather than letting them loose on the streets. Students caught with weapons or drugs are automatically kept out of school, but officials are following up more with their families, and for any other offenses, they are rightly trying to help students by keeping them connected to school and using suspension as a last resort.

More money is also being invested in training that prepares teachers to better handle conflicts among students and in youth development activities that encourage positive leadership roles for students.

A number of other behavioral issues can be addressed by improving the overall learning environment and helping more students succeed academically. That's why school officials are taking a more comprehensive approach to safety by providing more academic coaches and social workers in middle schools, where a lot of behavioral problems start to escalate.

As the plan is presented in community forums, parents, faith leaders and other local residents must realize that they also have a role to play by creating home and neighborhood environments that complement and augment what's going on in schools. Keeping children safe is a citywide responsibility.

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