Police patrol around school

Officials work to calm Northern High students, parents after beating

Chaotic conditions described

November 15, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police cars cruised the streets around Northern High School yesterday morning, while teachers and administrators tried to calm a campus troubled by violence.

A 15-year-old student, Willis Reese, was beaten just outside the school Friday and remained in critical condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital yesterday. Two Northern students have been arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Schools chief Carmen V. Russo said officials are trying "a group of strategies to calm things down." In the short term, she said, extra school police officers have been assigned there, as well as more staff to monitor hallways where students congregate.

School officials also talked to parents yesterday, Russo said, as they came to Northern to collect their students' report cards. "We know this is a joint effort between families and school," she said.

Students and parents said yesterday that the school has grown chaotic this year. Fights break out regularly, drugs are sold inside the school, and the halls are too often filled with students who aren't in classes, they said.

Last month, 13 arrests were made for crimes that included two assaults on students and an assault on a teacher who tried to break up a fight. School police also arrested four students for possessing knives and one student for robbery at knifepoint.

The previous October, 10 arrests were made, school officials said. This month, one arrest has been made, for drug possession.

"They need police officers in the school that carry a badge and a gun," said Monique Smith, the mother of a senior at Northern. School police are unarmed.

Smith said her daughter called her from school last week saying that she didn't feel safe walking in the halls. "She doesn't want to be in the school. She is afraid for her safety. She is supposed to come to get an education," Smith said.

A ninth-grader who feared she wouldn't be safe in her school if she was identified said students have been drinking alcohol in the cafeteria and selling drugs in the halls. Three fights erupted in the school Tuesday, she said.

One problem, teachers and Russo said, is that the school has scheduled only three lunch periods for 2,200 students in the sprawling brick school off Northern Parkway in Northeast Baltimore. So 700 students are supposed to come to the cafeteria during each period. A teacher said some students are so frightened by the cafeteria scene that they seek out classrooms to go to instead.

Russo said she plans to increase the number of lunch periods to four next semester.

Northern has a long history of neighborhood rivalries spilling into the school. In 1998, a student was beaten just outside the school because of gang rivalries, an incident similar to the beating Friday. That boy was shot and killed a month later in the neighborhood.

The school improved significantly under a new principal, Helena Noble-Jones, who left in the summer of last year to become a principal in another jurisdiction.

A new principal was named this year, and many of the school's top administrators were replaced.

Russo said the school system's chief academic officer has been spending part of each day supporting the principal, Betty Donaldson, at the school. Donaldson refused to let a reporter into the school yesterday.

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