By Alexa Limbach
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
An estimated 15 parents and staff members told the Baltimore County Board of Education Tuesday that they were concerned with the lack proper air conditioning, heating units and clean water in several county schools.
Parents said the inadequate school climate is directly correlated with poor student behavior in the classroom. If the county’s public schools do not provide an appropriate climate for students, parents said, students will continue to behave poorly.
The parents and faculty members who spoke at the board meeting said they were unsatisfied with the way Baltimore County public schools ignore the student disciplinary processes.
State Del. Robin L. Grammer, a Republican who represents southeastern Baltimore County, told the board that she has heard from many parents who have complained about the lack of discipline in the schools.
“I’m here tonight because I’m receiving continuous complaints from parents, students and other concerned citizens regarding discipline, or the lack of discipline, in Baltimore County public schools,” Grammer said. “This is in terms of both specific cases that are going unresolved over long periods of time and general climate issues regarding violence, abuse and bullying at our local schools, which are only seeming to get worse.”
Grammer said there is a major disconnect between parents, teachers and county officials. He said the students’ educations are being negatively impacted because schools are avoiding proper disciplinary policies.
When students find that they are able to get away with behaviors such as assault and bullying, he said, they become repeat offenders, frightening other students, faculty members and parents.
“The feeling I’m getting from parents and teachers is that they are completely terrified,” Grammer said.
State Del. Bob Long, R-Baltimore County, suggested that the school system model its disciplinary process after a New York school district that holds parents accountable for their children’s actions. Long said that if a student continues to bully others, the parent is then subject to a fine or jail time.
“Respect is one thing that we’re lacking in our schools, for sure,” Long said. “I think we need to start looking outside the box and making sure that we have the right discipline that’s clear to the students.”
Robert Hartlove, an eight-year Marine veteran, said he knew of one case in which a student from Sparrows Point Middle School with multiple assault charges and school suspensions was still allowed to come to school everyday like every other student.
The student allegedly threw soda cans at teachers’ heads, drew profanity on desks, told a female student he was going to rape her, and pulled a knife on two female students in attempt to steal their book bags, Hartlove said.
“At some point I understand that you have to try to mold a child and try to help them if they don’t have the same upbringing as others, but at some point you also have to figure out the safety of the other children if you allow that,” Hartlove said.
Hartlove said he made a social media post about the student’s undisciplined acts and was messaged by over 100 citizens, 12 of which were Sparrows Point Middle School teachers who “were told there was nothing they could do about it.”
On another issue, the school board is still considering a proposed 2018-2019 school calendar that would keep the schools open during the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. School officials have said they are trying to find a way to meet the 180-day school minimum after Gov. Larry Hogan ordered all schools to start after Labor Day and end by June 15.
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin rushed from his daughters’ school to open the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say I think this is a very, very bad idea,” Zirkin said. “I’m a product of Baltimore County public schools. We started after Labor Day and we were off on Rash Hashana and Yom Kippur and we made it work and I know you can make it work as well.”
The shortage of available substitutes and high salary costs are among a great concern if the board were to vote in favor of the newly proposed school calendar.
“There are some days that keeping schools open isn’t worth the added expense since there is no real learning going on due to a predictable higher than usual staff and student absentees,” paraeducator Lila Merenbloom said. “It is estimated that it will cost the system an additional $1 million in substitute salaries alone to keep schools open just for these two days.”
Baltimore County Board of Education Chairman Edward J. Gilliss said the board would reconvene to vote on the proposed school calendars on Oct. 24. He said a public hearing would be held at that time.