Violence erupts at Patterson

October 26, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article.

One student was arrested yesterday and several others could be suspended after an outbreak of violence at troubled Patterson High School that the new principal blames on teen-agers rebelling against a tough new code of conduct.

The high school, one of the city's worst in terms of academic performance, averted a state takeover this year when the city agreed to remove its entire staff.

Yesterday's problems were caused by students angry with the new administration, which is "trying to tighten the screws" on disciplinary problems, said Principal Bonnie Erickson.

The first of several incidents began when a 17-year-old student threw a glass bottle at a school police officer and ended after classes were dismissed for the day when students apparently tossed rocks and bottles off an overpass at motorists.

In between, police and school officials said, at least one fistfight broke out in a hallway and a food fight and a spate of small skirmishes erupted in the school cafeteria.

"Some young people are trying to incite other kids to riot, and we're bound and determined to get these kids out of Patterson," Ms. Erickson said. "We had chaos in the cafeteria with students throwing food and others pushing or assaulting other students."

The East Baltimore school, which has 1,700 students, was targeted by the state as part of an initiative to intervene in "academically bankrupt" schools beset by years of worsening academic performance, spotty attendance and rising dropout rates.

Nat Harrington, a spokesman for the city schools, said stricter rules bar students from hallways while classes are in session, prohibit food outside the cafeteria and prohibit smoking.

"Now we have zero tolerance," Mr. Harrington said. "Before, people were complaining that students were always in the hallways disrupting things. There is going to be some resistance to change. Many students are rebelling, [but] many more are accepting this."

Letty Herold, president of the Patterson High PTA, said that although yesterday's outbreak might have been part of a "rebellion against strong discipline, we certainly need that at Patterson. I think today is solid proof that things are getting ready to get better. It may be the students' last grasp for 'Hey, we're going to run this school.' If they get squashed today, they might very well straighten up."

The first incident yesterday was reported about 10:20 a.m., when a 17-year-old student threw the bottle at the officer near the main entrance. The officer, who was hit on the shoulder, was not injured.

Mr. Harrington said the student broke away as school police officers tried to subdue him and ran into the parking lot. He was spotted nearby by a police helicopter and was caught by other officers.

"It was not that serious of an incident," said Mr. Harrington, adding that the student was charged as a juvenile with assault on a police officer. "They don't even know if it was intentional or not."

Maj. John E. Gavrilis, commander of the Southeastern District station, said his officers responded to the school to help catch the student and to control the more than 70 students who spilled outside the school to watch the pursuit.

The second altercation occurred about 2 p.m., when two students got into a fistfight in a hallway. Mr. Harrington said. The student who started it is in special education classes and suffers from a disability that "causes misbehavior," he said.

As a result, the student will be suspended but not expelled, the spokesman said. No one was arrested or injured.

About 2:30 p.m., Major Gavrilis said, officers were called to an overpass on Kane Street, about a block from the school, for a report that teen-agers were throwing rocks and bottles at passing cars.

The youths had dispersed before police arrived, the major said, adding that yesterday was the third time that police had been called to Patterson. Other incidents, he said, included a fight and a disorderly person.

Ms. Herold, the PTA president, said a group of parents plan to be at Patterson this morning "to make sure there is calm." She is encouraging other parents to get involved and help out at the BTC school.

"There is going to be more problems," she said. "But this may have been the grand show. At least I hope that it is."

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