Offer of Cash Continues for Informants

By Susan DeFord
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

School administrators in Howard County have decided to continue offering cash to students for informing on their classmates, a practice that was sharply criticized after a high school principal offered to pay for information about a cafeteria food fight in December.

Linda Wise, assistant superintendent for school administration, said officials at middle and high schools recently agreed that reward money could help resolve incidents "that might jeopardize the safety of the students, staff or school."

"Everybody felt it should be used judiciously but used as an option as needed," she said.

The practice captured public attention after Restia Whitaker, the principal at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, offered $30 to students for each name they provided identifying a participant in the food fight. Some students and parents expressed outrage at the offer, and no money subsequently was paid. Officials with surrounding school systems said they do not give students rewards for information.

Wise said administrators in Howard decided that guidelines would be developed in coming weeks.

"These are criminal actions to a large extent," she said, mentioning hate crimes, destruction of school property and the pulling of a fire alarm as examples of incidents that could warrant offering reward money. Students apprehended in such situations, she said, "are still given due process."

Philip Soergel, a Wilde Lake parent who has complained to administrators about the practice, said: "This just makes the students less secure, because it promotes an atmosphere of hostility and breeds retaliation."

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