Baltimore County students who bring weapons to school or hit school employees, even inadvertently, will be expelled and won't be eligible for the system's alternative schools under a proposed policy change that goes before the school board tonight.
Also, students guilty of either of those offenses would not be able to attend night school or receive home instruction, as they are now.
"We want to send a strong message. We want children to take responsibility for their own behavior," said Jesse Douglas, the aide who handles expulsions and suspensions appealed to Superintendent Stuart Berger. "We expect them to think, and we expect them to respect authority."
The change would also free more space in the alternative schools that Dr. Berger set up to handle disruptive students.
In Baltimore County, expulsion means removing a student from school for a substantial period of time, but usually not permanently. It is a more serious punishment than a short-term suspension.
Under the proposal, students guilty of carrying weapons or attacking staff members would be expelled for at least 11 days, but no more than 90 days, two school quarters.
Expelled students would be responsible for making up work missed during that time and would be allowed to get books and other materials from school.
Special education students guilty of either of the offenses would have to leave their schools but would continue to receive instruction at home because federal law states disabled students are entitled to continuous education.
The policy changes are preventive and punitive, school officials say.
"We hope that people will see this as an effort to ensure safety, not that we have a violent situation," Ms. Douglas said.
Carrying weapons and assaulting staff members are among the most frequent serious offenses among middle and high school students, according to school data.
During the 1992-1993 school year, 558 students were expelled. This year, 705 students were recommended for expulsion, but only 183 were "truly expelled," said Ms. Douglas. The rest were transferred to alternative schools or were assigned to evening school or home study.
If serious offenders are not eligible for the five alternative schools that were set up to deal with behavior problems, she said, there will be more room for "different kinds of offenders," including students who might voluntarily transfer to alternative schools before their behavior deteriorates further.
"By December, we were turning down volunteers because the seats were filled by kids who had done Category 3 offenses," said Ms. Douglas, referring to serious infractions that warrant expulsion.
The two alternative high schools and three alternative middle schools had a capacity of 300 students last year. That capacity will be nearly doubled when school opens in September.
"We try to encourage kids and their parents to see the alternative schools as a voluntary option before behavior gets to other levels," said William Lawrence, assistant superintendent for community relations, planning and alternative programs.
The policy proposal also details the efforts pupil personnel workers must make to get disruptive students the help they need. The school board has been adamant that alternative schools not be warehouses for problem students, but places where students can learn to avoid disruptive behavior and ultimately return to their home schools.
The board says it has remained firm in its discipline policy, despite some complaints that Dr. Berger doesn't like principals to suspend or to expel students.
The board will hear the proposed changes at its meeting at 8 tonight at Greenwood, the school system headquarters at 6901 N. Charles St.