Parents, officials discuss school safety plans

May 04, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

A semester-long class concentrated on conflict resolution. An in-school room to send disruptive kids, staffed by a police officer. Requiring students to address administrators as "ma'am" or "sir."

About 50 parents and community leaders offered those and other suggestions last night to Baltimore school officials, who are completing a systemwide safety plan.

The safety plan was written in response to a requirement handed down last summer by the Maryland State Department of Education. It focuses on parent and community involvement to help formulate policies in discipline and suspension intervention.

Schools officials have held two forums this week and say they will incorporate information from parents garnered during the work sessions into the plan's final version. Another forum is scheduled for the middle of next month.

Last night, attendees were split into four work groups, each focused on one of four topics: curriculum, youth development, school/family engagement, and discipline and suspensions. The latter is an issue that participant Lamont White said has affected his household.

White said he has a 21-year-old son who, at age 16, was frequently suspended from school. He said he now has two fourth-graders and wants to avoid the problems he faced with his son. White advocated for a class dedicated to teaching conflict resolution.

"I want to see more structure, more discipline, more so than easy suspensions," White said. "Why would you suspend a kid three days for cutting class? There has to be a plan in place and help for parents."

White and about a dozen others, including two school police officers and three students, attempted to come up with suggestions for correcting behavior during their one-hour session on the topic.

Amy Neill, president of the PTA at Woodhome Elementary School and the mother of a seventh-grader, recommended in-school suspensions rather than sending students home.

"The easiest solution is to have a suspension room inside the school," Neill said. "The idea is not to just punish children, but let the village raise the child."

Neill said discipline starts in the classroom and with interaction between teaches and students. She said she would like one school in the system require that children address teachers and administrators as "ma'am and sir" to increase respect.

"And it goes both ways," Neill said. "Teachers shouldn't be allowed to say whatever they want to kids."

The system's safety plan calls for reducing suspensions, expulsions, arrests and truancy by focusing on initiatives to prevent violence.

System officials - who included $700,000 for in-school suspension plans in middle schools in next year's budget - said they want to get away from a zero-tolerance policy that requires automatic suspension or expulsion for fighting in school.

The budget for the next school year contains an additional $1 million for more school police officers and $1.8 million for more hall monitors. It also allocates $300,000 to implement and coordinate efforts outlined in the safety plan.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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