As the new Richmond County Board of Education members are sworn in today, they already know - or should know - what their No. 1 priority will be in the year to come:
Restoring order and discipline in Richmond County schools.
Fact is, board of education members should be losing sleep over it. It's that urgent.
In a 2004 punctuated by local scandals - including the indictments of three high-profile former and current politicians - violence in several Richmond County high schools at the start of the school year may rank as the biggest scandal of them all.
More than 100 students were arrested for brawling and otherwise disturbing the peace - and only after the Richmond County Sheriff's Office sent in officers to help restore the peace for a desperate school system.
That, folks, is a scandal.
Moreover, school officials may be forced to call in a similar team of deputies to restore order in some middle schools. In one instance at Glenn Hills Middle School this fall, two girls went at it in a classroom, complete with a pair of scissors - leaving one with cuts to her nose and the other with patches of hair torn from her head.
If board of education members think they can change this picture by waiting until next summer to plan the start of the school year, they're dangerously mistaken.
The time for action is now.
Nor is the solution to be found in the school system alone.
School officials need to swallow their pride and admit they need help controlling students.
And that help, principally, should come from parents.
Superintendent Charles Larke has suggested having schoolwide parent meetings at the middle schools. We think that's mandatory - and probably should be done at the high school, if not elementary school, level.
Ultimately, after all, this is a parenting issue. Schools didn't create this problem; it stands to reason that schools can't be alone in correcting it.
School board members should consider convening a retreat to discuss this in depth - and to encourage radical, out-of-the-box solutions.
Consider: We tend to think of attending public schools as a right. Well, it's not. You cause disturbances, you leave. That, folks, makes attending a public school a privilege. If you think of it that way, then you can attach certain conditions to school attendance.
Regardless of the approach, the school board had better wrestle with this problem now, not later.
If we see the same kind of public disturbances next fall that we saw this past fall, it will be an even bigger scandal - because this time, we can say we saw it coming.
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