Student suspensions at Poly spark furor


Leaders at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute faced a challenging question this week: What do you do when nearly the entire senior class decides to mill around after an assembly instead of catching a short first-period class?

Suspend them for a day.

That was what Principal Ian Cohen and his staff decided after seniors at the school engaged in the Great Cut of '95 on Wednesday, but by yesterday afternoon it wasn't looking quite so simple.

Angry parents were besieging the school, students were outraged, calls were coming in from North Avenue headquarters and -- maybe worst of all -- not all the teachers were cooperating.

The problem was this: If school administrators had caught everyone who cut the first period and suspended them, that would have meant not only a day out of school but the loss of some senior privileges. The result? A senior ski trip virtually without skiers, a senior prom without dancers and a June graduation without on-stage graduates.

Another problem arose: They didn't catch everyone. Teachers were supposed to report those students who missed class that day, but, according to parents and students, only three or four teachers were going along with the crackdown.

As of yesterday, Mr. Cohen said, about 40 students had been suspended -- although seniors said the number seemed closer to 60 -- out of a senior class of 198.

So he decided to back down a bit, and announced late in the day that the suspension would not entail the loss of privileges or appear on students' transcripts. In short, the ski trip is on.

The crisis began after Wednesday morning's assembly, marking Senior Day at the math and science high school. Catcalling had occurred during the assembly, which ran over, but when it finished the students walked in procession out the back of the auditorium. An announcement -- which no student admits to having heard -- directed the seniors to attend their first-period classes, which had been shortened because of the assembly. Instead, nearly all of the happy seniors hung out in a group and reported on time to their second-period classes, Mr. Cohen said.

"Given the unique nature of the circumstances, we felt strongly there was clear reason for the disciplinary action that we took," Mr. Cohen said in an interview after school yesterday. "It seems like a very serious measure, but we are serious about school. I want them in their classes when they are in school. We are a college preparatory school."

Deborah Davis, whose daughter, Amy, was suspended, called the incident "just totally blown out of proportion."

"It's just ridiculous the way they're handling this," she said. "If all these children were just milling around in the hallway, why didn't someone send them to class?"

Besides the suspension, Amy has been told she'll be docked 15 points from her average for her first-period English class, Mrs. Davis said.

Another few dozen students are to serve their suspensions Monday, and the school warned that there are "more to come."

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