Schools to enact some ideas in violence report


Baltimore County schools will start to implement recommendations of a student behavior committee within three months, Superintendent Stuart Berger said yesterday as he formally released the long-awaited report on school violence and disruption.

"A committee of people within the school system will go through the report, recommendation by recommendation, to determine what can we do immediately and what we can do down the line," Dr. Berger said at a noon news conference.

But he said without elaboration that some of the more than 100 recommendations probably will not be implemented because they are not feasible or affordable.

Among the recommendations are calls for additional support staff in schools, such as psychologists, and incentives to attract top teachers to the county's most troubled schools.

The report also pointed to the need for parents to make a commitment to working with schools, particularly at the secondary level where such cooperation has declined. It noted that schools also are burdened with responsibilities once exclusively in the domain of the home.

It cited "disrespect toward adults and peers exhibited by a large segment of Baltimore County's student body," and "violence, which is exhibited by a small percentage of the student body but creates significant upheaval within the system."

"Many students cited dysfunction in their families," the report noted as a compounding factor in the problems youngsters bring to school. "While this is not surprising, the number of students who spoke openly about problems in their families . . . was overwhelming and continuous," it said.

Dr. Berger said that he was pleased with the thoroughness of the Committee on Student Behavior, headed by former Baltimore County police Chief Cornelius J. Behan, and with the results -- which did not surprise him.

"We found that the school system is a safe system. But there's a perception of a lot of violence. There is some [violence] and some is too much," he said.

Mr. Behan and others from the 52-member committee presented their report to the school board during its regular meeting last night.

"We do not have a violent school system, but we do have students who act violently," Mr. Behan said at the news conference. "They are part of a national trend in schools. Today a small number [of students] attend angry, frustrated and unwilling to learn. It becomes the responsibility of the schools to deal with them."

The former police chief said violence has moved into classrooms quickly over the past few years, but it is not likely to go away in the same manner.

"Crime in the schools will not disappear anytime soon. We will have an increase . . . in violent crime by our youth," he warned.

But county schools are in "an excellent position to prevent crime and violence from growing and to manage and reduce disruptive behavior," the report concluded.

Among the many recommendations are:

* Reducing teacher and principal turnover to stabilize schools.

* Holding principals accountable for following board policies and procedures.

* Establishing a consistent definition and process for expelling students.

* Enlarging the capacity of the county's two alternative high schools where disruptive students are sent, and lengthening the time students can stay there.

* Taking steps to reduce incidents and perceptions of racial bias.

Dr. Berger asked Mr. Behan to head the committee last fall.

The former chief, in turn, appointed an executive committee of police professionals and retired educators. Dr. Berger also chose about 35 students, teachers, administrators, parents, police officers and businessmen to complete the group.

They found that some county schools have little violence, though the report made it clear that disruptive behavior is not confined to a few "problem" schools or to any socioeconomic level, race or ethnic group. Chronic offenders are both male and female, it said.

Although the report did not allege bias against minority students, it cited disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates for minorities and cited those numbers as contributing to a perception of bias.

"There is a prevailing opinion that ignorance of cultural differences causes some teachers to escalate simple acts of disruptive behavior into much more," the report said, warning that "every student must be held to the same policies and standards regarding proper behavior, rules and regulations and discipline."

The need for consistency was drummed home throughout the report, which said that students guilty of the same offense were treated differently depending on what school they attend. Such inconsistencies resulted from varying interpretations of discipline policies, the committee found.

Despite a relatively small number of violent and disruptive incidents, some teachers told committee members they spend as much as 40 percent of their time on discipline, thus compromising the education of many students because of disruptions from a few.

The committee also found that otherwise well-educated teachers were ill-prepared to deal with disruptive behavior, and that teachers' efforts often were not supported by principals, who wanted to downplay or overlook such behavior.

Mr. Behan stressed that all misconduct should be recorded, and all criminal behavior reported to police -- practices that some school principles fail to carry out, the committee report said.

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