Schools' schizophrenia

Our view : Reducing school violence is everyone's responsibility

May 08, 2008

It's a tale of two different realities of Baltimore's school system. On Tuesday, Kristin Covaleskie, a fourth-grade teacher at Northwood Elementary School, was celebrated - with applause from her students and gifts from her supervisors - as the city's Teacher of the Year. A day earlier, two 13-year-old students at Calverton Elementary/Middle were arrested when they showed up for class after allegedly breaking into the school and attacking a staff member who was there on her own time over the weekend.

The 13-year-olds now appropriately face criminal charges, including attempted rape and aggravated assault, as juveniles. But the attack - one of more than 100 against staff since school started last August - underscores the continuing need to ensure school safety and to make it undeniably clear to students who break the rules or engage in criminal acts that there are severe consequences for such reprehensible behavior.

At the same time, the weekend incident should be a wake-up call to parents and the broader community that the schools cannot be solely responsible for teaching basic values of civility and humanity. Calverton is on the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools because of increasing numbers of suspensions for violent incidents. The surrounding neighborhood has also been plagued by gang conflicts, and recent shootings of a police officer and a student from a nearby school led to two lockdowns at Calverton in recent weeks. Schools are clearly not immune from the lawlessness that pervades parts of the city.

But keeping schools - and neighborhoods - safer goes beyond good policing. At-risk children require early intervention and mentoring as well as more after-school programs and extracurricular activities. In addition, struggling families need services and supports. The dedication to help students succeed - represented by Ms. Covaleskie and the Calverton staffer who was working diligently on Sunday - must be rewarded and protected.

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