More than half the teachers at Oxon Hill Junior High School in Prince George's County and at least 150 parents of the school's students have called for the removal of the principal, Karl F. Taschenberger, who, they say, is a lax disciplinarian.
Parents and teachers appeared at a meeting of the county school board last week to reiterate their position that Taschenberger should be transferred.
Recently, 24 of the school's 47 teachers signed a grievance against the principal, who has been at his post one year. On June 16 parents wrote a letter to the Prince George's County Council and School Board asking for a new principal at Oxon Hill.
In a period when discipline is being stressed in county schools, observers say principals are in a difficult position when they have to maintain order and at the same time help reduce the county's high student suspension figures.
Since he assumed his position at Oxon Hill, Taschenberger has adopted a new discipline procedure. Teachers must let him handle each student's problem on an individual basis.
"Before, teachers could prejudge (without the principal) and tell a student he or she was going to be suspended for three days," said Taschenberger in an interview.
Both teacher and parent complaints in his discipline dispute focus on instances of students running in the halls and chewing gum and of "insubordination," and on incidents such as one in which a students allegedly came to school drunk.
The controversy has been festering since last October and has divided teacher friendships along lines of support or opposition to the principal.
THe superintendent of schools, Edward J. Feeney, said last week that he plans to keep Taschenberger at the school despite the parent and teacher drive to remove him.
This debate over hard or softline discipline policies has been raging throughout the Washington metropolitan area for the last few years.
In Montgomery County there have been recent revisions of the discipline policy, including a tightening of discipline at Winston Churchill High School last November.
Principal Frank Bready attempted to change Churchill's free-wheeling image as the school where drug sales went on in the corners, where students spent as much time out of classes as in them, and where false fire alarms interrupted classes about once a week. Teachers were posted in hallways to discourage gatherings by students; attendance forms were created to spot unauthorized absences quickly and suspensions became the iron-clad rule for continued misbehavior.
It's different in Prince George's County, where school officials are just now recovering from the heated controversy concerning their high number of suspensions.
Feeney, who urged the principals to "emphasize to a greater extent the use of less stringtent, more guidance-oriented alternatives," has apparently caused confusion at schools throughout the county, including Oxon Hill Junior Hill, according to a spokesman for the county teacher's union.
"Teachers are complaining that they are spending too much of their time disciplining students and not teaching them," said Steve Bittner, a spokesman for the Pronce George's County Educator's Association.
A county school security spokesman, however, said there was no noticable increase in discipline problems in the school system last year as a result of the drop in student suspensions.
According to Bittner, the problem in some county schools is that they "have not found a happy medium" between teachers who want strict discipline and "principals who are told to take a more human attitude toward youngsters."
Tashenberger says his discipline policy is straightforward. "If a student misbehaves, first the teacher must talk to him. If it happens again, the teacher should call the parent. If it happens a third time, then the office should be called," he said!
"The only thing they (teachers) have to worry about is that the situation will be handled . . . If they want to handle the situations, they should become administrators," he added.
Those teachers who oppose Taschenberger say he is not suspending enough of the disorderly students or providing the "consistent" authoritative support teachers feel they need.
The principal's supporters say he is examining each student's problem "case by case" and resolving each situation with appropriate responses, which do not necessarily include suspending the student.
Ironically the discipline controversy at Oxon Hill Junior High was aired last week at the same school board meeting where they county superintendent of schools issued a report that the school system had reduced the number of suspensions by more than 25 per cent during the last schoolar year.
Frustrated teachers say that during the last school year they called a special PTA conference on suspensions at the school and their recommendations were ignored. They say they brought a special administrative team into the school and it determined there was not enough communication between the teachers and the principal. They say out of frustration 24 of the school's 47 teachers finally signed a grievance against the principal and sent it to the superintendent who has been considering the issue for the last few weeks.
One of the complaints about the principal states that he let a girl return to school the next day after she came to school drunk, despite a school rule mandating suspension.
Taschenberger answered the criticism saying the girl had special problems; she was receiving outside counseling, and her parents were cooperating. He also said the girl never again returned to the school drunk.