Group wants new school

Parents say crowding could breed violence

Demand facility

Commissioners have postponed decision to next week

November 05, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Fearing a rise in violence because of crowding at Westminster High School, a group of more than 600 Carroll parents urged the county commissioners yesterday to build a second high school and stadium by 2002.

Vicki Anzmann and Susan Ullrich, co-chairs of Citizens for Schools, a group that has been lobbying for a new high school for months, delivered a letter to the county yesterday, asking the commissioners to "keep your promise and keep construction of the new high school on course."

"Regardless of where it is built or how it is funded, we want the doors opened by 2002," the letter says.

The commissioners were expected to decide this week whether to build a 1,200-student high school to alleviate crowding in Westminster. After reviewing more than 12 possible sites, county and school officials are considering two locations: one near the new Cranberry Station Elementary School off Center Street and the other on farmland near Sullivan and Lemmon roads.

The commissioners, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, have postponed a decision until next week, county officials said.

According to the letter, the group's urgency is fueled by reports from students and administrators who say "hazardous conditions at Westminster High School still exist and continue to get worse because there are too many students there." However, law and school authorities said some of the group's concerns were exaggerated. They specifically refuted the group's notion about gangs.

"Factions have formed at the school -- factions with such disturbing names as `The Nazis' and `The Blacks,' " the residents' letter stated. The residents also feared "gang wannabes" at Westminster High will begin warring with neighboring county rivals.

"The parents' concerns are well-meaning, but it's an example of taking a little information and raising an alarm based on faulty logic," said Lt. Terry Katz, state police commander in Westminster, who is known statewide and nationally for his expertise on gathering intelligence about gangs.

Sherri-Le Bream, Westminster High School principal, agreed the school was crowded with 2,400 students.

"Whenever you have large numbers, you're going to have students in various groups -- all schools have that," she said. "It's more difficult to deal with but it's not a threat to our students. We're glad [the group is] pushing for a new school."

In its letter, the group says Richard Simmons, pupil personnel worker for the schools, is "so sure that it is only a matter of time before serious threats become violent acts in Carroll County Schools."

The group said Simmons reported that 37 students were referred to school officials last year because of serious threats of violence, and he expected between 80 and 100 referrals this year. They said Simmons is seeking funding to hire a "serious threats assessor."

Katz, Simmons and Larry Faries, security chief for Carroll schools, offered a different perspective after learning of the letter.

Katz said he met with school principals last week. He said Faries could provide the numbers on in-school referrals for violent acts or threats, but "I can speak about groups of individuals calling themselves gangs."

"By national standards, Carroll County has no gangs," Katz said. "Kids can call themselves anything, but they are not out there, collectively committing felonies in Carroll County."

In Frederick County, police recently charged a gang leader after a series of burglaries were committed, Katz said. "We aren't seeing anything like that here."

Faries said 37 students countywide were referred to Youth Service Bureau counselors for "anger assessment" between January and June 1999, which is one half of the 1998-1999 academic year.

"The figure of 80 to 100 referrals for this year -- a full year -- came about because we anticipated more referrals for serious threats of violence, doubled 37 and added some extra, guessing we would have more this year because of our zero-tolerance policy on violence and serious threats of violence," Faries said.

Even if school officials were to have 100 kids sent for serious threats assessments in one year, "that's a pretty small percentage from 27,500 students in the county," he said.

Simmons noted the school system's protocol to deal with serious threats of violence was implemented in January. Twelve students were referred to youth services this year, he said.

He said assessments on serious threats of violence are made at the school level. An irrational, angry statement made by a third-grader most likely would be handled by a school counselor and administrator in consultation with the child's parents.

"If a student makes a serious threat and really has the motivation and means to carry through on it, a school counselor, administrator and parents still would be involved," he said. "But that student would only be referred to youth services after consultation with Cyndy Little, director of pupil services."

Regarding funding a "serious threats assessor," Simmons said discussions about that new position were preliminary and arose from a need that youth services has for another counselor.

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