Say #!%* and Pay $$$, Connecticut city Tells High School Students

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Dec 14 13:38:02 UTC 2005

>>From the NYTimes, December 14, 2005

Say #!%* and Pay $$$, Hartford Tells High School Students


HARTFORD - Reprimands did not work. Neither did detentions or suspensions.
Frustrated over their inability to stop high school students from cursing
aggressively, educators and police officials decided it was time to get
tough. In November, they authorized police officers assigned to two of the
city's public high schools to begin issuing tickets to students who hurl
expletives. The fine: $103.

The officers have issued about 60 tickets to students at Bulkeley and
Hartford High Schools in what several experts think is the first such
effort in the country. There are already signs that the new approach may
be working, some teachers and principals said. Fights have decreased,
classrooms are calmer and there is less cursing in the corridors. "Has it
gone away completely? No," said Zandralyn Gordon, the acting principal of
Hartford Public High School. "It is helping a whole lot."

The tickets accuse students of creating a public disturbance and require
them to appear in Superior Court. No one has yet paid the fine, which some
students and parents say is excessive, especially for students from
low-income families. Hartford educators said the fine was intended to be a
financial burden. "If it was $25, maybe they would pay and curse just the
same," Ms. Gordon said. But not everyone agrees. Paul Stringer, the
principal of Weaver High School, a third public high school in Hartford,
has declined to participate. "Throwing a $103 fine at people who can't
afford it - is that going to solve the problem or make it worse?" Mr.
Stringer asked.

Prosecutors will have the discretion to take into account a student's
financial circumstances, said Christopher L. Morano, Connecticut's chief
state's attorney. "I'm sure the fine will be adjusted to reflect the
ability to pay and may be replaced by other forms of community service,"
he said. Some people question the strategy. "If a student is frustrated or
angry, you don't want just to fine them for swearing," said Timothy Jay, a
psychology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who
wrote "What to Do When Your Students Talk Dirty" (Resource Publications,
1996). "You want to teach them how to deal with their frustrations." But
many parents, educators and students applaud the Hartford initiative.
"It's a good thing that they're fixing it, because cursing is out of
control," said Ulises Himely, a junior at Bulkeley. "The only way people
know how to express themselves is through cursing."

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