Harford school board considers updated gang policy, passes graduation schedule

The Harford County Board of Education is considering broadening its policy regarding gangs in schools and their activities.

These updates, presented by the board's lawyer, Patrick Spicer, during Monday night's business meeting, include an expanded definition of the word "gang" to describe a group of three or more students which has an "overt or covert organizational or command structure," as well as an expanded definition of the term "gang activity" to include a state violation of "coercing or engaging" in gang activity on or near school property.

Further revisions include procedures for handling offenses, reporting gang activity and investigating that activity, as well as additions that prohibit retaliation against people who report gang activity, detail services for parents and students about gangs and account for school system activities to address gangs.

The board developed a policy in 2005, but when the Maryland Safe Schools Act of 2010 was passed, board members were charged with updating the prohibition of gang-related activities policy in accordance with those standards. The policy will be voted on at a later date.

Board member Alysson Krchnavy pointed out that the specification of actual paper forms of gang activity, not necessarily electronic ones, could deter people from reporting information.

Spicer stated that the Maryland policy required it primarily to show the community there is a specific form for reporting gang activity.

The meeting agenda also included the adoption of the graduation schedule, presented by Executive Director of High School Performance Joseph Schmitz.

A significant change from years prior is that Joppatowne's graduation, previously held at home and outdoors, has been moved to Edgewood High School by incoming Principal Pamela Zeigler.

Zeigler, according to Schmitz, spoke with school leaders and community members before deciding that the indoor facility at Edgewood, which would allow for more space and remove the unpredictability of the weather, is a better option.

Board member Robert Frisch, who represents that area, agreed with the change, citing the most recent graduation that was moved inside because of weather, forcing several attendees to miss the proceedings.

"I'm in complete agreement with the decision to move the venue," Frisch said.

The 2011 schedule starts with John Archer School's graduation on June 1 at 1 p.m. at the school. Three schools, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Edgewood High, will host their own graduations June 5 at 6 p.m.

On June 6 at 6 p.m., North Harford High School will graduate at Aberdeen, C. Milton Wright High School at Bel Air and Joppatowne High School at Edgewood. On June 7, also at 6 p.m., Fallston High School will graduate at Bel Air, Patterson Mill High School at Edgewood and Havre de Grace High School at home.

Finishing up graduation week on June 8 is the Alternative Education Program at the Center for Educational Opportunity at 10 a.m. in its own facility and Harford Technical High School, at home, at 5:30 p.m.

Public comment

Lori Watchinsky was the lone community member to comment Monday evening, advocating for the kindergarten readiness program requirements.

The current program, she stated, excludes children who are otherwise ready for kindergarten simply because they are not age 5 before Oct. 15 of the school year. In doing this, she said, the school system discriminates against such students.

In her case, her daughter, who turns 5 on Nov. 22, was identified as ready by a private test, but did not qualify for the school system one. Her intent, Watchinsky emphasized, was to increase awareness.

"All children can succeed and should not be systematically denied opportunity," she said.

Other business

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Cornell Brown gave his third presentation on the Capital Improvement Program for Fiscal Year 2013.

Board members approved the monthly personnel report, tenure recommendations, monthly contract awards, minutes of previous meetings, decision on appeal cases from Aug. 1, 2010 through June 20, 2011 and track renovations and repairs at Joppatowne High School.

Student Representative Anthony Cofrancesco announced that he is working with the Harford County Government to get partial voting rights for student board representatives.

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