If the students were running Washington's elementary schools, they probably would be stricter with those who misbehave than teachers and principals are now.
That was the message given to the D.C. School Board yesterday at its first public hearing called especially for elementary school youngsters.
About 40 pupils from throughout the citytalked about behavior problems at their schools ranging from writing on the walls to setting desks on fire.
Again and again many of the students, most of them fifth and sixth graders who are leaders of student councils, said the way to cut down on misbehavior would be to deal with it more strictly. Many added that students should be involved in drawing up school rules and also in enforcing them.
"The ground rules for suspension have to be more strict," said Leonard Harrison, a sixth grader at Patterson Elementary School, South Capitol and Elmira Streets SW.
"I think the students who misbehave could be helped by having stiffer punishment," said Chris Cordam, a sixth grader at Lafayette School in Chevy Chase.
One student, Terraance Wainwright, from Moten School in Anacostia, suggested that corporal punishment be resumed. It is now banned by school board policy.
"Some kids resent getting a whipping," Wainwright said. "But if you get a whipping, I don't think you'll die from it, and it might help."
About 200 students and teachers crowded into the school board's meeting room for the hearing, which was sponsored by the board committee on student services and community involvement. The audience was quieter and more attentive than some adults only groups have been at long school board meetings, even though the hearing lasted for two hours and the room was so crowded that many students had to sit on the floor.
Earlier this year the board held similar hearings for junior and senior high school students. Many of those in junior high complained about problems caused by unruly students and said teachers had to spend too much time dealing with troublemakers at the expense of those who want to learn.
Yesterday, some of the elementary pupils said most of the children in their schools were well behaved, but others said there were serious discipline problems.
Darnell Henderson, from Birney School in Anacostia, said a few pupils have set their desks on fire. He said other problems include "telling teach names, fighting and cursing and leaving school at lunch.
"We should get the parents to coperate," he said, "and beat up and punish their children if they do something wrong."
Besides discussing discipline, some of the students talked about school lunches, mostly to complain about the food.
"We often have peanuts at lunch," said Gina DiGiulian, a fifth grader at Takoma Elementary School. "But they are often soggy. Frequently, they're not eaten but thrown at other children."
Betty Ann Kane, the school board member who presided at yesterday hearing, promised that the board would take the student's opinion into account in making policy.
"We want to get information from the people who are the most impotant in the school system," she said "and that's the students."