Policy takes aim at pupils City schools plan 'zero-tolerance' of disruptive students; 'Act up, you're gone'; System chief hopes standard will rein in trouble at Southern


Baltimore schools chief Robert Booker announced last night that the system will assume a "zero-tolerance" standard for disruptive student behavior.

Booker hopes the new policy will help rein in Southern High School -- where violent and unruly students and nonstudents have made the school year chaotic -- and prevent other schools from losing control.

The rules, Booker says, will be simple:

Start a fire, and you're out.

Assault a teacher or another student, and you're out.

Destroy school property, and you're out.

Disruptive behavior will automatically be met with suspension, assignment to an alternative school or expulsion. Cases of criminal behavior will be turned over to city police for prosecution.

"I am no longer going to tolerate a few students disrupting the learning environment for everyone else," Booker said during a well-attended meeting of parents, school officials and community leaders at Southern last night. "We're not going to soft-pedal this any longer. If you act up, you're gone."

Booker said the system has been able to come down hard on student offenders but the policy will make it standard practice.

Booker will formally present the policy to middle and high school principals later this week. He is asking them to hold assemblies with their students to explain the policy. He is also asking teachers to discuss the policy with their students in class.

Booker's announcement was greeted enthusiastically at last night's meeting, where about 150 people gathered to brainstorm about how to control the fights, fires and other disruptions that have troubled Southern this year.

Already, Booker said, the school has gotten more police and funds for more teachers. The school's exterior doors will be fixed to stop the flow of children in and out all day, and security cameras will be installed.

Booker said 50 of the school's most disruptive students have been removed, many for good. More could follow. "With zero-tolerance in effect, I think we can get control," Booker said.

Many of the parents and community members at the meeting outlined other serious problems facing the school.

Social circumstances create students who don't want to learn and are likely to get into trouble, some said. Students are allowed to carry cell phones and pagers in the building, and many hang out in Federal Hill or around businesses in Cross Street Market.

Some classes are filled with as many as 55 students, and parental involvement is minimal.

Suggestions for change included instituting a student court, working with businesses in the neighborhood to help keep students from wandering, establishing a twilight school with a reading emphasis, and organizing more after-school activities for students.

Booker said school officials will discuss the suggestions and report back to parents.

Senior Leslie Blake, enrolled in Southern's citywide biotechnology program, said the meeting was a good start.

She said she sees the fights that take place almost daily in the building and avoids the fires, but she sees hope.

"I think if they can get more discipline in here, we'll be OK," she ZTC said. "And if you remove the disruptive students, that will make a big difference, too. If you keep them, there will always be problems."

Walking the school's halls, Blake took note of the gleaming, spotless floors and the graffiti-less walls.

"They cleaned up for the meeting," she said. "That's a good sign, and I hope they keep it up. Is that Pine Sol I smell? I've never smelled that before in here."

John Parsons, a parent, came from Curtis Bay to attend last night's meeting with his son, also named John. Though his son hasn't encountered trouble at the school, Parsons said it's important for parents to show up and help.

Parsons said he believes some of the problems at the high schools started when middle schools were created for students in grades six through eight. He pointed to new kindergarten through sixth grade and kindergarten through eighth grade schools in South Baltimore as signs of positive change.

"I think kids just aren't ready for the changes they experience in sixth grade and ninth grade in these schools," Parsons said. "We've got to do things differently."

Eight-year-old Timmy Harrison won't be old enough to go to Southern for another six years. But he knows that a willingness to do things differently is needed at the school his brother attends.

"If we all work together, we can make this a better place," he said.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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