County leads state in student suspensions, offenses

Prince George’s schools suspended 13,598 in 2005-2006

Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006

Prince George’s County again leads the state in the number of students suspended and the number of offenses committed in public schools.

Information from the Maryland State Department of Education shows that in the 2005-2006 school year, there were 13,598 students suspended from county schools, up from 12,767 suspensions in the 2004-2005 school year.

The county with the second highest number of suspensions is Baltimore County, with 11,798 suspensions. The county suspension rate significantly outpaced Montgomery County, which has a similarly sized student population but suspended only 6,408 students last year, and Baltimore City, which had 9,271 suspensions last school year.

There are 133,000 students in the Prince George’s County public school system. Suspension statistics reflect pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade.

At a school violence forum held Wednesday at Henry A. Wise Junior High School in Upper Marlboro, Schools Superintendent John Deasy and county schools security chief Russell Tedesco attempted to assure residents that concerns regarding student disruptions and school violence were being addressed.

Tedesco said school security is doing all it can to keep children safe from violence and that the school building is still the safest place for children.

‘‘Your children are safest with us,” Tedesco said. ‘‘They are being watched by adults. Acts of violence in our schools are rare.”

But parents and education activists said they were dissatisfied with the job Tedesco’s security officers were doing at the school level.

‘‘I heard Russ Tedesco, and it’s not so,” said Kettering Civic Federation president Phil Lee, who has been working to curb truancy at Largo High School. ‘‘Security people do not engage these students. [The students] are simply being allowed to run the school.”

Lee spoke about acts of insubordination at Largo High School and of one violent incident in which it took 40 minutes, he said, to get a school security officer or sheriff’s deputy to respond.

Bob Ross, president of the PTSA at Surrattsville High School in Clinton, said an incident took place at the school several weeks ago in which a student struck another with a small hammer. Ross said he was not informed of it until several weeks after the fact.

Ross stressed the need for more school security at Surrattsville and at all other high schools.

‘‘Kids are cursing and fighting. It’s a culture in the school,” Ross said. ‘‘Anything goes once they get off that bus.”

The offenses that led to suspensions listed in the state report range from carrying weapons, fighting and disrupting classes to arson and committing sex offenses. While most physical assaults were directed at other students, a substantial number were directed at teachers and staff at school.

The total number of offenses that resulted in suspensions in Prince George’s was higher than the numbers of students suspended because there were often students who had multiple offenses. Again, Prince George’s led the state with 22,564 offenses in the 2005-2006 school year, also up from the 2004-2005 school year figure of 20,784 offenses.

The majority of the offenses, 9,063, were for disrespect, insubordination or disruption. There were 6,073 attacks, threats or fighting; 492 weapons offenses; 358 dangerous substance offenses; 158 arson, fire or explosives offenses; 148 sex offenses; and 6,272 offenses listed as ‘‘other.”

The state registered no offenses dealing with attendance.

Of the 6,073 attacks, threats or fighting in the 2005-2006 school year, 333 students were suspended for physical attacks on teachers or staff members and 339 students were suspended for verbal or physical threats to teachers or staff members.

Numbers for the 2006-2007 school year were not yet available since statistics are tallied at the end of the school year.

Deasy said increased parental involvement in schools, with an actual physical presence, had a nullifying effect on bad behavior. He also encouraged parents to get to know their children’s friends better so they would have a better idea of how they spend their time.

‘‘If they are spending a great deal of time with their friends, [asking about what their friends do] is not an intrusion of their privacy,” Deasy said at the forum Wednesday.

Carol Kilby, president of the Prince George’s County Educators Association, said the problem of lax student discipline and respect for authority is widespread.

‘‘There’s an underbelly culture of disregard for the rules ... and that’s alarming to me,” Kilby said at a Dec. 15 school discipline forum at Bowie State University. ‘‘I believe we are losing good teachers to [poor student] discipline.”

Of the 9,063 offenses dealing with disrespect, insubordination or disruption, there were 2,289 incidents of disrespectful behavior for which students were suspended; 3,945 acts of insubordination that resulted in suspensions; and 1,917 counts of disrupting class. Educators said they believe the problem rests with a small minority of students who habitually break the rules.

‘‘We have to deal swiftly with the low percentage of students who break the rules,” said Andrea Philips-Hughes, principal at Bladensburg High School. ‘‘If I could transfer 5 percent of my students to the Midwest, I’d have a very different school.”

E-mail Guy Leonard at