Public school suspensions increase


Suspensions in Howard County middle schools declined last year, but the number of suspensions in elementary and high schools increased, according to a report presented to the Howard County Board of Education last night.

The numbers represent a slight overall increase in suspensions of 0.17 percent, continuing a trend of more than three years, according to Eugene L. Streagle, the district's director of high schools.

But Streagle said the student population has increased every year - last year by more than 4 percent - which could be a factor in the increase.

He also said that it's important to note that most of the school system's 43,566 students were not getting in trouble.

Incidents that led to suspension at the elementary level, such as assaults on students and staff and other misbehaviors, increased by 9 percent. At the middle school level, suspensions for such misdeeds as fighting and insubordination decreased by 11.3 percent. And in the 10 county high schools, suspensions for such activities as smoking, insubordination and fighting increased 7.7 percent.

Alcohol, drug and weapons violations were down throughout the school system, the report shows.

"I think that can be directly attributed to our school resource officers," Streagle said, noting that students who fight in high schools are not only suspended, but arrested by school police on patrol.

Streagle and Craig Cummings, the district's coordinator of alternative education programs, said that programs such as Saturday School and 25 in-school alternative education programs are helping control the number of suspensions.

But Cummings said more staff members need to be trained to deal with the needs of at-risk students.

He also said a committee last year suggested that all elementary schools should have alternative education programs on-site, as opposed to the cur rent 10, and that two off-site alternative schools for elementary children should be established.

That idea worried board Chairwoman Sandra H. French.

"I would like more community involvement in looking at alternatives as to how these students can be helped in their own school communities," French said. "It really worries me that this is the way we're going with elementary school students."

Earlier in the meeting, Wilde Lake High School junior Eryn Fox, who is the board's student associate, said students have been complaining recently about closed circuit video cameras in the hallways.

"Students don't like being videotaped in schools," said Fox, 16, "and I think it comes dangerously close to violating our personal rights."

Board members said the cameras, which are in at least four high schools, were installed for safety and security purposes, not to "check up" on students. But Fox said students feel as though their privacy is being invaded.

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke encouraged Fox to take up the matter with the high school principals.

In other matters, the school board received a $355,000 grant from the State Department of Education to provide mentor support for new teachers.

Also, the district's director of transportation announced last night that, beginning Monday, Patuxent Valley Middle School will open and close 10 minutes earlier - 7:35 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. - to allow buses more time to make their stops on schedule.

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