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Board of Education continues to enforce zero tolerance policy

May 06, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

It's been a little more than a year since the last mass school shooting shook the country, but area school and police officials say that's no excuse to back off a zero tolerance policy.

Boyd J. Michael III, Washington County's director of secondary education, said Sunday that the school system tries to remain consistent with its zero tolerance policy, whether a student is caught making threats, acting inappropriately or found with drugs.

"We don't tolerate inappropriate conduct, or there's going to be discipline," Michael said.

Michael, however, said that because a student acts out, it doesn't always mean that student will be kicked out of school.

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Students may receive a threat assessment, in which they meet with a psychologist to help determine whether they pose a danger to other students or staff, he said.

They may also be placed in private facilities or different Washington County schools, including the alternative schools or the Evening High School.

In some cases, Michael said the students' threats or actions are just "dumb" mistakes.

Last week, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Mellon Middle School in Mount Lebanon, Pa., was suspended for three days for drawing two teachers with arrows through their heads on the back of a vocabulary test.

The girl, Becca Johnson, said she meant no harm to either teacher, but that she was just angry after receiving a "D" on the test.

Her mother, Barbara Johnson, said the Mount Lebanon School District overreacted, saying such a policy does away with due process and inflicts a penalty without a hearing or investigation.

Michael said such an instance would probably warrant similar action in Washington County Public Schools as well.

"We would probably suspend a student for that," he said. "In this day and age that we live in, we're not going to take these things lightly."

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said he encourages the school system's zero tolerance policy because it may prevent major violent acts.

He said the school system notifies the police when weapons are brought to school and about other incidents, such as when drugs are found in school or when people are trespassing on school property.

While the number of calls has gone down since the school shooting at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., last spring, Smith said city police continue to get called to Washington County schools.

"We still handle a fair number of calls at the schools," he said.

Smith said he expects the number of calls to increase once North Hagerstown and South Hagerstown high schools receive school resource officers, possibly next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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