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Sex harassment, violence schools' leading problems


Drug use is not as great a problem in Anne Arundel County schools as sexual harassment and violence, according to a recent school system report.

The report showed 320 incidents of violence during the 1994-1995 school year, 283 sexual incidents and 264 incidents of drug or alcohol use or distribution.

Huntley J. Cross, an assistant to the superintendent who investigates student discipline cases, said sex and violence are problems in part because students do not take responsibility for their actions.

"We've seen so much of that with the Menendez brothers and Tonya Harding," he said. " 'It's not my fault, I'm not responsible.' "

In addition the nature of student fights has changed, he said. Once, groups of students would watch others fighting; now, they hTC join in.

And the problems are the greatest at the middle schools, he added.

"There's been a chemical revolution, an entertainment revolution and a sexual revolution," Mr. Cross said. "Those three forces are ragging at the kid day in and day out wherever he turns. And middle school -- it's a tough time."

Students in grades six through eight accounted for 536 disciplinary incidents in the last school year, while their counterparts in grades nine through 12 accounted for 488 such incidents.

George Fox Middle School had the dubious distinction of reporting more incidents of misbehavior than any of the county's 116 other schools. The No. 1 offense at the school was sexual harassment, with 53 cases, followed by seven fights, two assaults on teachers, and single incidents ranging from intimidation to use and distribution of an inhalant.

Old Mill High School had 62 cases of student misbehavior, while Severna Park High School tied for third with Annapolis High School with 52 cases.

Throughout the system, sexual harassment was the most frequent single sex-related offense among students.

Other sexual incidents included cases in which students sexually assaulted other students; a case of indecent exposure; and reports that students engaged in sex in school bathrooms, the faculty parking lot and a school bus.

Physical assaults by students of other students were the next most common single offense: 170 incidents. In addition 69 cases of students assaulting teachers, and 24 cases of students assaulting administrators were reported.

Over the past two years, the school system has tried to crack down misbehavior, moving quickly to punish student for sexual harassment, assault and bringing weapons to school.

Some of the most innovative work has been done at Annapolis Middle School, which this year reported 31 cases of misbehavior.

Principal Kevin Dennehy said that to make the transition easier for sixth-graders, he gave them their own first day at school. Seventh- and eighth-graders report to school a day later. He also instituted a Saturday school program for students who misbehaved, and set aside an "alternative classroom for the kids to cool down," he said.

At Annapolis Middle, teachers use "cooperative discipline," where they attempt to discover the reason for a student's behavior before imposing punishment.

In addition, teachers are trained to monitor their own expectations of students to be sure all children in their classes are given equal opportunities to learn.

"It's a time of growing up, and kids have peer pressure, and parental and family pressures, and they're trying to find themselves," Mr. Dennehy said. "Their bodies are changing, and there are emotional and social changes. Sometimes, they make stupid mistakes. We're trying to get them to think, and slow down."

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