ANNAPOLIS – When an art teacher at Annapolis High School was beaten and permanently injured in trying to break up a student fight, Principal George Rossiter was enraged.
It wasn’t the first case. Student attacks on teachers have become increasingly common in area schools, Rossiter told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee Wednesday.
Rossiter and other school administrators asked the lawmakers to support a bill that would enact stiffer penalties against students who assault teachers. And they want the bill to go further – to protect staff as well as teachers.
Rossiter said the number of incidents in his school has risen dramatically in the past four years – from 15 in 1991-’92 to 56 last academic year. Fifty-one assaults have already taken place this school year, a number he expects to swell to 70 or 80 by June.
“When our teachers and administrators are being physically assaulted, how can our children be safe?” he asked.
The bill would require a 10-day suspension of the student. In addition, the local school board would have to evaluate whether the student should return to the school.
“I feel a student who assaults a teacher has so little respect for the rights of others,” said Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel, the bill’s sponsor.
Astle said he introduced the legislation because he thought the current regulations, made by individual counties, were not imposed regularly or frequently enough.
Rossiter, for instance, said he was frustrated because a student in Anne Arundel County could be suspended a maximum of only five days.
Stephen Wallis, assistant principal of Howard High School in Ellicott City, said students there no longer feared disciplinary actions. And teachers are so frightened, they are reluctant to report assaults, he said.
“Dismally poor behavior is tolerated,” Wallis said. “The legislators need to return some sense of honor and discipline to the schools.”
Many current programs for disruptive youth are not effective, he added.
However, Mary K. Albrittain, chief of pupil services and drug-free schools for the state Board of Education, said the board thought the current laws were adequate.
“The term assault is strong and not clarified,” she said. “We need to look at other factors such as the age of the child, the circumstances and the severity of the assault.”
Sen. Roy Dyson, D-Calvert, took issue with her statements.
“I would like [members of the state school board] to put on their blue jeans and khaki shirts and go out to some of our schools and talk to the teachers,” he said. “They just want to teach, but they are frightened to death and they don’t feel like you’re doing a very good job for them.” But Albrittain said the board was often criticized for not giving local school districts control over policy. -30-