Council acts on violence in schools

January 31, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Jean Thompson | JoAnna Daemmrich and Jean Thompson,Sun Staff Writers

Amid reports of an alarming surge of violence in Baltimore's public schools, the City Council moved last night to tighten security and revamp an alternative education program for the most disruptive middle school children.

Council members unanimously endorsed a resolution calling on the city to strengthen the school police force by hiring another 25 officers. Retirements and attrition over the past two years have left only 55 police officers to patrol 18 high schools and 24 middle schools daily.

The proposal comes just as the Schmoke administration is requesting $1.25 million from the General Assembly. Part will go toward hiring 10 more police officers and broadening efforts to combat the violence that has become virtually routine in the toughest schools.

"It's time to stop playing games with our children's lives," said 6th District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes. "This is not a bridge we're working on. This is not a pothole. This is our children's lives, and an education is the most important thing they could ever obtain."

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley introduced both the police proposal and a companion resolution to either overhaul an alternate middle school for unruly children or create a new one. His action was prompted by complaints of escalating violence and a shootout last week in front of Northern High School that left a 22-year-old man dead.

"Violence can send a whole classroom off-track," said Mr. O'Malley, who challenged the effectiveness of the city's 4-year-old program for disruptive middle school students.

Council members deplored the rising rate of school violence last night just as Superintendent Walter G. Amprey was meeting with more than 70 parents at Northern High School to announce he will replace its principal tomorrow.

Principal Douglas M. Norris will be transferred to the school system's career technology department, and Dr. Alice Morgan-Brown, who is from the school's neighborhood, will take his post. Dr. Amprey said the transfer is not punitive.

Meeting is emotional

"He's handled the situation well, but because of what has happened there, and what the problems are right now, there is a need for someone who is particularly adept in the area of student relations."

The emotional meeting was one in a series after Elijah Jermaine Young, of the 400 block of E. Cold Spring Lane, died in wild shootout between two neighborhood gangs. Students were leaving the school at the time of the shooting, which involved older men, on Jan. 23.

Parents and students called last night for peer mediation programs and better school policing, and many pledged to get more involved in school affairs if their presence would make the school safer. They asked for building improvements that would improve safety, such as closing off areas of the school that aren't used for learning. Repeatedly, several asked for troublemakers to be removed from the school.

Students asked to be heard; they said teacher and parental indifference is contributing to the problem. Some teen-agers even volunteered to start going through a metal detector in hopes of avoiding a shooting in the school halls.

Prevention is urged

"We can not bring E. J.'s life back, but we can prevent this from happening again," said Sharonda McClain, a 12th-grader and student senator.

The council's proposals, while nonbinding, drew applause from the local teachers' union and reflect a growing exasperation with the school system's efforts to stem the violence. Several council members said they planned to press the administration strenuously to hire the police officers and expand the alternative school.

At a packed, six-hour hearing last month, the council heard principals, teachers, parents, union leaders and school police officers plead for help.

Mr. O'Malley and other council members say they were astounded to learn that only 17 students are enrolled in the alternative school even though it receives $500,000 a year to provide services to 60 troubled youths. Dr. Amprey set up the program at an annex to William H. Lemmel Middle School but changed operators three times in the past four years. Woodbourne Center Inc. is the latest private, nonprofit company to run the program.

"Either this money is going to waste, or it hasn't been set aside," Mr. O'Malley contended.

Dr. Amprey said yesterday the Lemmel program was not created to help typically unruly students.

"We do not see that program as being there for the students who the council members want to send," he said. The students at Lemmel have displayed more serious disruptive and anti-social behavior, he said.

Monitors to be restored

Last week, Dr. Amprey announced the school system would restore at least 100 attendance monitors, expand anti-violence courses, and train psychologists, social workers and counselors in conflict resolution. The superintendent said his actions were prompted in part by the concerns raised at the council hearing. The council has scheduled a follow-up hearing at 5 p.m. on Feb. 15.

Statistics released this fall show a sharp upsurge in reported violence. Reported assaults with deadly weapons, including guns and knives, rose 42.5 percent, from 47 in 1992-1993 to 67 last year. Armed and unarmed attacks on students, teachers, other staff and school police officers climbed 14.7 percent, to 1,387. And 302 teachers and other staffers and 63 school police officers were assaulted in 1993-1994.

Dr. Amprey said yesterday that he has asked city police Maj. Linda Flood, his interim school police chief since August, to take the position and propose ways to strengthen the department.

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