Readers' views on school discipline in penknife...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Readers' views on school discipline in penknife case

I am writing this letter after reading the article and editorial by The Sun about John Destry and his suspension from school. I think you have missed the point about fairness of punishment by the school system.

In the article, it was made known that Mr. Destry was an honor student and has never been in trouble before. I would have to ask myself why an honor student, after reading and signing a letter explaining the school policy, would make a decision to carry any knife to school. You say it is only a two-inch blade, it is dull and he uses it at his job after school.

The problem officials will run into when they make an exception for this young man will be how do you judge the next violation?

How do you decide what to do with an average student, who only has a three-inch blade on a pocket knife? You make an exception for that student, and you have to make one for the below-average student who carries a hunting knife to school because he is an avid hunter.

Enforce all rules on all students equally. This should send a clear message to all students. You come to school to learn. If you choose to break the rules that you agree to before you start the school year, you will meet with swift and expected punishment.

I applaud the system for sticking to its rules, and enforcing them without prejudice to all students.

Keith K. Light

Pasadena

As a parent and taxpayer, I am opposed to expulsion and extended suspensions except for the most serious of offenders -- carrying or possessing a firearm, an assault or distribution of drugs. Expulsions are counterproductive.

As pointed out by the students at the Feb. 5 school board meeting, there are dangerous weapons readily available throughout the school. In art and science, there are sharp instruments for chiseling and dissecting. In physical ed, there are bats and field hockey sticks. In band, there are brass instruments of all sorts. In the cafeteria are tables and chairs, knives and forks.

For lesser offenses such as "simple" possession of nail files or pen knives, I strongly recommend suspensions of one to 10 days, dependent on whether it is a first, second or third offense. In all instances, the parents should be notified. One of the conditions of re-entry into the school is the requirement for the parent and student to meet with the administrator. After the third offense and only then should a severe punishment such as extended suspension or expulsion be considered.

Expulsion or extended suspensions are not the panacea for enhancing discipline in the schools. Our educators have not even tracked the students they have expelled, let alone analyzed the long-term, adverse emotional and educational impact that expulsion has on our children.

Having gone through the process and even appealing to the State Board of Education, I strongly recommend that when a child is expelled or placed on an extended suspension, if they are appealing the decision, they immediately file a writ of mandamus with the Circuit Court to have their child placed back in school while the appeal is pending through the administrative process.

June A. Salanik

Crownsville

Having attended the Anne Arundel County school board meeting on Feb. 5, I applaud Southern High School's "vintage 1968 style walkout" and the students' admirable conduct and speech at that meeting. I vehemently oppose extended suspensions or expulsions as a form of deterrence; most of our prison population did not graduate from high school!

My heart goes out to the 578 children expelled in nne Arundel County in the 1995-96 school year and to the 200-plus already expelled this year. What will be the overall effects of these "extended suspensions" and expulsions? I challenge concerned parents, PTAs, the press, congressmen, senators and the governor to demand that an unbiased "voluntary" group be appointed to study the short- and long-term effects of these expulsions and extended suspensions on the children, parents and society as a whole.

At the board meeting, one of the board members stated that "expulsion isn't forever." An expulsion which lasts a whole school year, or an extended suspension that can last the rest of the year, is forever to a child. During that time, the child will probably have a low self-esteem, feel worthless, be unsupervised and bored. Our prisons are filled with people who had these same symptoms.

In the case of the Southern High student, it was announced over the public address system that someone lost his or her keys. The student retrieves his keys and is charged with carrying a weapon to school. Was this entrapment?

If our children are to be held accountable and punished in such a "cruel and unusual" manner, surely our educators should be held accountable when our ninth and 10th graders cannot multiply or read.

Jeanne Muhlada

Crownsville

Mixed use, floating zones and county general plan

During the last 50 years, we have segregated the use of property into residential, commercial and industrial zones. This requires us to move from zone to zone, usually by car, to carry out our day-to-day lives.

A panel of citizens, known as the General Development Plan Steering Committee, suggested last fall that we consider allowing a mix of residential, retail, civic, cultural and employment uses within relatively small areas of Anne Arundel County.

The belief is that this type of "mixed use" would help us to preserve our rural, wooded and environmentally sensitive areas.

Mixed use would not eliminate the need for cars, but it would allow us to live, work, shop and play more independently of them. It would be more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and it would ease the pressure to build the new and larger highways that are required to connect traditional land uses.

The steering committee has suggested that we locate mixed use around our light rail and MARC stations, other transportation hubs and employment areas, such as Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Fort George G. Meade. It is being recommended for Wayson's Corner to rejuvenate a commercial center along a major highway and to provide services to nearby residents.

Recent predictions of massive new commercial or residential development in these areas are unfounded. The GDP is a general guide for public policy decisions. There could not be any mixed-use development until the County Council has adopted separate, detailed legislation governing its size, scale and intensity.

Mixed use is one of the many tools recommended by the preliminary draft of the GDP to help conserve our environment and improve our quality of life. Let's work with the steering committee, not against it, to make that happen.

Thomas C. Andrews

Annapolis

The writer is Anne Arundel County land use officer.

As a resident of Anne Arundel County and a professional planner, I attended a meeting of the General Development Plan Steering Committee on Jan. 30.

While I want to sincerely thank all the members of the committee for their time and effort toward the plan, I am highly critical of the county planning staff that is providing support to the committee.

When one of the members was debating the regulatory merit (based on state planning requirements) of including "floating zones" in the comprehensive plan, the planning staff made no attempt to provide any information one way or the other.

Actually, the answer to the member's question is that "floating zones" are zoning designations intended to be located on the zoning maps only after an application is made by the developer.

They are typically used for large-scale developments and are generally upheld by the courts as being within the police powers so long as they are in "accordance with a General Development Plan." Therefore, it would make good planning sense to include "floating zones" in the general plan.

When another member questioned the change of density from "residential low/commercial" to "rural" in the Broadneck-Whitehall Road area, the planners made no attempt to inform the member that the area in question is predominantly rural with greater than 300 acres preserved in the county agricultural land preservation program and that the remaining land includes wetlands and flood plains.

It has been two years since the county started the expensive process of drafting the general plan. After spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, it seems like the steering committee members are still grappling with some very basic planning terminology.

I hope that the planners get their act together in providing basic VTC information to the members of the committee or have the decency to distance themselves from the general plan and hire some competent staff to complete the task. As the saying goes, "better late than never."

Raj Williams

Annapolis

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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