As Joseph Barse handed out diplomas last month to graduating seniors at Rockville's Thomas S. Wooton High School, he became angrier and angrier.

Barefoot students wearing baseball caps and jeans snaked past him in the procession, irreverently placing Hawaiian leis around his neck. At other graduation ceremonies this year, students set off smoke bombs and firecrackers.

That experience, coupled with reports of increasingly unruly behavior at county schools, has prompted the Montgomery County school board member to draw up sweeping changes in the system's policy on student discipline.

Barse's proposals, which will be discussed by the Board of Education July 23, include:

A new ethics and character education curriculum for high school students. Students need more classes to learn how to treat others with "simple human dignity," Barse said.

A harsh crackdown on class-cutting. Barse said students should receive failing grades for course work due on days they are absent without excuse.

A more stringent policy favoring police invention during disturbances on school grounds. Currently, only school building monitors and principals have the authority to call on police to handle student disturbances. Barse wants every staff member, including maintenance workers and teachers, to share that power.

"I'm on the warpath," said Barse, whose proposals, which have provoked stiff opposition, coincide with the board's review of the system's senior high policy.

"They're going back and approaching the dark ages of education," said board member Daryl Shaw referring to Barse and other conservative members. "You can't just crack down on students and expect them to tolerate it and change."

Former student board member David Naimon added: "If you get a bunch of adults lecturing students about ethical values, their first response will be to do the exact opposite."

Barse finds little merit in these objections. "I think everyone accepts the idea of police intervention when it is needed," he says. "The real question is what is the triggering mechanism. I believe it's much more effective if individual staff members have that obligation, in addition to the principal.

Barse wants his pilot program in ethics and moral character to begin by 1982. It would include class discussions and lectures by "role model," such as county police officers.

Shaw distrusts this method. "I don't think taking courses is the way you get at it," he said. "It turns kids off. It's not something that can be mandated."

Conservative member Carol Wallace disagreed. Changes must be made from the top or they won't be made at all, she said.

"If we have to sit up there and dictate what should be done we will do it," she says.

Barse, meanwhile, says he finds it hard to understand what the fuss is all about. "Look at the drug problem in schools," he says. "Anybody can see that it represents the end tentacles of a larger criminal organization. There is no more appropriate use for the police." CAPTION: Picture, JOSEPH BARSE . . ."I'm on the warpath"