'Our children cannot learn if they live in fear' The superintendent outlined a broad plan to reduce violence in the city schools.

November 21, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

Flanked by two students from the safety patrol and Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, Baltimore School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey announced a broad plan yesterday to fight violence in and around public schools.

"We have a responsibility not to let evil prevail," said Dr. Amprey, who was joined for the announcement by local ministers, attorneys, a disc jockey, parents and business people in the library of Arnett J. Brown Middle School, above the shores of the Patapsco's Middle Branch in Cherry Hill.

Since the school year opened -- Dr. Amprey's first as superintendent -- two Baltimore teen-agers have accidentally shot themselves with concealed handguns in school, a third was found to be carrying a pistol, and last week 40 East Baltimore first-graders were forced to seek cover under their desks as a gunbattle raged on the street outside their classroom.

The gunbattle outside Johnston Square Elementary School came a month after a similar incident outside Steuart Hill Elementary School, across the street from Union Square in West Baltimore.

"Children learn best in a nurturing environment where they are motivated to reach their greatest potential," Dr. Amprey said. "That environment cannot be nurturing unless it is safe and secure. Our teachers cannot teach, and our children cannot learn, if they live in fear."

To re-establish the city's classrooms as havens for learning, a goal that a few parents and at least one student yesterday perceived as highly ambitious, Dr. Amprey outlined the following plan:

* Public service announcements calling attention to the problem and possible solutions.

* Unannounced visits to schools by the superintendent, his staff and police during arrival and dismissal of students.

* Appeals to religious groups, community groups and parents for ideas and support, and the organizing of a student-parent community group in each school to focus on safety issues.

* Personal discussion sessions between the superintendent and students and a monthly honor roll for schools with no violent incidents during that month.

* The planning of a citywide "Safe Schools Day" with lesson plans focused on resolving conflicts peacefully; the training of school staff in conflict resolution; and establishment of teacher teams to develop activities addressing the school violence.

At a time when many city teachers are doing no more than legally required as a protest against cuts in the education budget, some parents found Dr. Amprey's plan well-intentioned but unrealistic.

"You take away all of a community's resources and that's why there's violence," said Mabel L. Ford, 33, of Cherry Hill. "We've lost our community Fun Wagon, our public library is gone -- my son loved that library and now it's gone.

"It's the young black youth killing and selling drugs, and we've taken [alternative] resources out of Cherry Hill. It's the whole system that stinks now."

To which Dr. Amprey replied: "The teachers don't have any more of a champion for increased pay [than me]. We still have to find a way to turn this thing around. We've got to find a way. If we can't get the resources back, the choices are to do nothing, and I'm not going to do nothing."

Said one middle-school student: "You can't stop [violence] completely, but you can decrease it. . . . It will take a long time."

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