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School violence bill OK'd


For the second time this week, state lawmakers in Annapolis have voted to force change in the Baltimore school system.

The Senate unanimously approved a measure yesterday that would require the city to create a new education program for violent and disruptive students.

The proposal, House Bill 970, now goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who has not yet said whether he will sign it.

Earlier this week, legislators voted to withhold $5.8 million in state aid from the city school system until they see improvement in its management.

They passed the measure requiring the city to set up an "alternative learning center" with its own curriculum after Baltimore teachers complained about chronic troublemakers who assault teachers and disrupt classrooms.

The system's current response often is to transfer the students to other schools where their disruptive backgrounds are unknown, the teachers told legislators.

Del. Tony Fulton, the Baltimore Democrat who is the bill's chief sponsor, said more than 6,000 assaults are reported in the school system each year. But, he said, the system has dragged its feet in coming up with programs to protect other students.

"Decent kids have a right to an environment conducive to learning," Mr. Fulton said.

"Kids with problems should be removed from [traditional classrooms] to a place where they can get treatment."

Linda Prudente, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union, which helped draft the bill, said its passage "is a victory for the classroom teacher who has to deal with violent and disruptive students every day. This is a first step to make our schools safer."

School officials -- who expressed concern about the proposal during legislative hearings -- said yesterday that the measure was unnecessary because programs for violent and disruptive students already are or soon will be in place.

They also complained that the proposal seemed to be a state-imposed mandate without accompanying funds to carry it out.

"If it means creating a brand-new school from scratch, it looks like another unfunded mandate," said Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

Baltimore already has three alternative schools, but the teachers union says those facilities don't provide the programs and services needed by students who are violent.

City school board President Phillip Farfel said officials are drawing up plans to open six "presuspension centers" by September for "youngsters who have demonstrated major disruptive behavior."

"What we are hoping is that we can address their needs comprehensively at these centers and then we can return them, functioning successfully, to a regular school setting," Mr. Farfel said. He said he expects the centers -- one for each city school area -- to be included in the superintendent's budget presentation to the school board tonight. He added that he hoped that the proposal would satisfy the legislation's requirement.

"That's great, but this is the first time I've heard of it," Mr. Fulton said last night when asked by a reporter about the school system's plan.

He said he has been pressing school officials to devise such a plan since last June. He said he never received a positive response.

"Obviously, I think we were the motivating force getting this done," Mr. Fulton said. "I guess having a gun to their head helps."

Mr. Farfel expressed chagrin that state lawmakers feel they have to intervene in the city system.

"I think we're seeing a pattern of assertiveness on the legislature's part," he said. "People apparently feel we are not doing enough."

Governor Glendening is still being briefed on the bill, a spokesman said yesterday.

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