Assault on a teacher

Our view: Tackling school violence is a shared responsibility

April 11, 2008

The assault by a student on an art teacher at Reginald F. Lewis High School is a flagrant example of the violence that plagues some Baltimore schools. The widely distributed video footage of a teacher on the floor being hit by the student is a powerful warning of how far some schools have to go before they can become suitable places for teaching and learning.

Schools CEO Andres Alonso has focused mainly on students and rightly recognizes that instruction can't happen in an atmosphere of violence. Teachers also need tools for handling increasingly belligerent kids, and he can't forget that. But improving classroom safety is not solely the school system's responsibility - it requires a community-wide effort.

Mr. Alonso's emphasis on alternatives to suspension for nonviolent offenses is showing some results: Short-term discretionary suspensions from last August through March have dropped by about 3,400 compared with the same period the previous school year. But long-term nondiscretionary suspensions for violent offenses have increased slightly, including assaults on teachers, which have risen 10 percent. The teachers union says the problem is even worse and reports receiving two or three complaints a day of assaults on teachers.

The school system is trying to ensure safety through deploying school police, refining and enforcing disciplinary codes and exposing more students to programs that encourage positive behavior. But the system has not been able to put intervention programs in all the schools that could benefit from them. As a consequence, officials acknowledge that violence in schools is still too prevalent.

Making schools safer involves teaching students appropriate codes of conduct and giving them support in living up to them. The beating of the art teacher at Lewis should be a call to action for school officials, parents, politicians and others to help in this critical task.

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