Look to the students for Park Heights answers

Isaiah C.Fletcher Sr.

January 23, 1992|By Isaiah C. Fletcher Sr.

FALLSTAFF Middle School's auditorium was filled to overflowing. This was a special meeting to discuss violence in Upper Park Heights, most of it caused by students at Northwestern High School.

Speaker after speaker testified to the noise, the destruction of property, the verbal abuse and the general confusion caused by the students. There were stories of car tires being slashed, trash cans being overturned, bicycles being stolen, cars being scratched with sharp instruments.

One speaker said a school dance in October was supposed to have ended at 10 p.m. but lasted much longer. After the dance, students drifted through the neighborhood making noise, blasting car radios and creating traffic congestion. Residents were fed up. Something had to be done!

Key officials were there, including two of the three 5th District City Council members, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the school board president, Superintendent Walter Amprey, the commander of the Northwestern Police District and Boyse Mosley, the well-respected Northwestern principal.

Mr. Mosley told what he had done. He had responded when residents called about student misbehavior. He had curtailed student activities after school and on weekends (except the catastrophic October dance). He had ridden school buses and visited nearby Reisterstown Road Plaza to identify his students and return them to school. He had driven through Upper Park Heights neighborhoods looking for his students. Residents praised him for his efforts, but admitted that he could not do it by himself.

Residents said they had tried, had really tried, to solve the long-term problem of student misbehavior in their community. They had held several meetings; they had called the police on numerous occasions when they saw drug deals or vandalism in progress. But nothing had changed.

As I listened, several thoughts came to mind. One was that the people complaining the loudest about the problems at Northwestern had, in large measure, contributed to them. They had removed their children from the school as blacks entered. And as the percentage of blacks increased, so did the exodus of whites.

The residents of Upper Park Heights and the students in the community high school are two distinct cultures. Their social, religious and economic lives are vastly different. These two groups never converse. They have negative, preconceived ideas of each other. The are in perpetual conflict.

Moreover, though there have been numerous meetings to discuss the situation, students -- in effect, the enemy -- have never been invited to the conference table to discuss a treaty.

Residents of Upper Park Heights, no matter who they are, should not have to live in fear. They shouldn't have to fear for their lives or their property. No one should condone anti-social and criminal behavior.

On the other hand, residents have no right to curtail the freedom of Northwestern students, most of whom do not engage in destructive behavior. The student body is being disparaged and punished for the behavior of a few.

If any solution is to be found, it will be found among the students themselves. Student leaders must be enrolled as the catalysts for change. Their peers will listen to them. They can police themselves. They can build better school-community relations with the cooperation of well-meaning people in Upper Park Heights.

The problems at Northwestern High School cannot be solved without these important players.

Isaiah C. Fletcher Sr. is a Baltimore educator. This is the second of two articles.

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