Next fall, some disruptive and violent middle schoolers in Maryland could enroll in a residential school designed to keep them out of the criminal justice system.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick announced plans yesterday for the voluntary program, which would target students who disrupt learning in their own classrooms.
A primary purpose is to intervene before youths end up at a place like the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, Maryland's reformatory for juvenile delinquents.
"I think there will be a collective sigh of relief in school systems," said state Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, after Dr. Grasmick's announcement before a House Appropriations subcommittee.
The superintendent emphasized that the plan remains in the early stages; it still needs approval by the governor and funding from the General Assembly. However, several educators and state legislators were quick to endorse the concept yesterday.
"I think it's an excellent idea," said Baltimore school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey. "I think any kind of intervention like that . . . is always good. It's the kind of thing we should be doing in our regular schools."
State Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, agreed.
"You've got to get these disruptive kids out of their [regular] classrooms," said Mr. Levitan, a Montgomery Democrat. "To me it makes sense, and it's probably money well spent."
Dr. Grasmick said she would send detailed plans for the program to the governor in the next couple of weeks so he can consider it as he draws up his budget proposals for the 1994 General Assembly. She added that costs for the first year had not been calculated yet.
The school would be the only one of its kind in the state, similar in some ways to Pennsylvania's Milton Hershey School for poor and troubled youths, she said. Although many details remain sketchy, here is how it would work:
Local school systems would nominate troubled students for the program. Eligible students would include those who bring guns or knives to class, those who assault teachers and fellow students and those who are so chronically disruptive that they prevent others from learning, Dr. Grasmick said.
The program would be phased in over time, beginning with about 60 students and eventually growing to as many as 250. Students with significant emotional problems requiring special education would not be eligible.
The school's program would include innovative projects like teaching students math by having them build boats, she said.
Dr. Grasmick added that she hoped to place the school on the campus of a college or a university, which could provide mentoring for students.
While many praised the idea yesterday, at least one children's advocate expressed concerns. Susan Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth, a nonprofit group that lobbies on behalf of children, worried about putting so many troubled students together.
"You don't have any good role models," Ms. Leviton said. "Kids learn from their peers as well as their teachers."
She also expressed concern about whether the school would receive adequate funding because many of the troubled students will be poor and have little political influence.
"On the other hand," she said, "if you're talking about a voluntary program, there are kids, if given the choice, who would probably welcome the opportunity to live in a place that's safe where they can get some decent education and learn some skills."