Some advocating guards for Meade Senior High Librarian badly hurt intervening in fight

November 05, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Some parents, students and community leaders say security guards are the way to make Meade Senior High School a safer place.

"There are way too many fights in school. Whatever the cause is, it happens, and something needs to be done about it," said 14-year-old Josh Parlaman, a ninth-grader. "I think you need somebody to be hired to intimidate the children."

Meade is not alone in dealing with violent students, but a fight in September 1994 in which veteran librarian Donald Gobbi was seriously injured while trying to intervene highlighted problems at the school. Since then the school has gone "a thousand steps forward" in addressing the issue of violence, said Principal George Kispert.

Teachers and administrators were trained in discipline strategies and the best ways to intervene in fights; more than 100 students took their disagreements to peer mediators instead of fighting last school year; more walkie-talkies and a two-way intercom system make it easier for adults around the school to report problems quickly; and more than 800 students signed a peace pledge at the beginning of this school year.

But fighting persists.

On a recent Friday morning, Mr. Kispert and art teacher John O'Neill stepped in when two girls, surrounded by half a dozen friends, got into a shouting match near a bank of lockers a few minutes before school started.

One girl was held back and pushed away by her friends as Mr. Kispert and Mr. O'Neill told the students to move on to class, averting a possible fight.

"If you are present and you interact with the kids, you can prevent, I think, a lot of stuff before it happens," said Mr. O'Neill, who is usually stationed at the locker area before school and between classes. "[Thursday] in the cafeteria, I had to physically hold off a student from attacking another student."

He prefers that the school system hire more teachers, administrators and guidance counselors instead of uniformed guards to monitor students.

Ninth-grader Regina Mason doesn't want guards at Meade either. "If we have security guards, they are going to make that like a jail," she said, on her way home from school Friday. Monitoring by school employees is enough, she said.

In Anne Arundel County, Old Mill and Annapolis senior high schools have "student advocates," whose main job is to patrol hallways and school grounds, monitoring students, preventing fights, keeping strangers off school grounds and handling general security issues.

Annapolis student advocate John W. Jones said he tries to establish a rapport with students. But they know his role and have given him the nickname "5-0," a euphemism for police, he said.

Mr. Kispert said he is pushing to get a student advocate at Meade and is not convinced the school needs security guards.

Parent John Lawson brought the idea of security guards to a meeting of Meade's citizen advisory committee last week, prompted by a newspaper article he read about last year's incident and by his daughters' telling him about lunchroom taunting they witnessed at school.

He said his three daughters, now in the 10th and 11th grades, attended schools near Fort Hood in central Texas, where uniformed, armed security guards roamed hallways and patrolled school grounds in squad cars.

"They were symbols of authority in the schools -- indisputable symbols," Mr. Lawson said.

One mother at the meeting said her 10th- and 11th-grade sons tell her about fights in school almost daily and feel intimidated by some students.

Security guards could change that, said Beverly, who did not want her last name used for fear of embarrassing her sons.

"Something has to be done," she said. "I don't want my children to be afraid to come to this school."

She said she realizes that Meade is no different from other high schools.

"I think this is a good school with a good principal," she said. "The only big issue at this school is that there are fights. This is the fifth state we have lived in, and every state we have been to, it has always been a concern -- fighting in the schools."

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