Parents plead for improved safety at West Baltimore Middle School

Town meeting called after spate of violence

March 30, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Parents -- some saying they feared for their children's lives -- begged city and school officials last night to provide more protection at West Baltimore Middle School, where a seventh-grader was stabbed last week.

The incident, and other recent examples of violence on or near the North Bend Road campus, prompted a town hall meeting at the school last night.

About 400 people crowded into the auditorium, and some parents said more protection is needed before and after school, when fights tend to break out between children who live in different neighborhoods. West Baltimore is the city's largest middle school, serving children from several communities.

"I'm worried about my child's life," said Gladys Jenkins, whose son is a seventh-grader. "I am worried about his survival, his being able to go to school and come home without being beaten or cut up."

City Council President Sheila Dixon called the meeting in response to a recent spate of violent attacks involving West Baltimore Middle School pupils.

On March 19, a girl was attacked by a pack of other girls. Three days later, the seventh-grade boy was stabbed by an eighth-grade boy before school. Dixon said one of her staff members witnessed the stabbing and saw as many as 150 pupils gathered on a school playground, yelling and waving colored bandanas.

Last month, sixth-grader Nicole Ashley Townes was beaten at a birthday party, where police say two women and three teens kicked, stomped and punched her until she fell into a coma.

No child should be afraid to attend school, Dixon said. "Schools have to be safe on the inside and the outside," she said.

Principal Everett Garnett, who has been at the school for three years, said that academic performance has improved in recent years but that violence outside the classroom remains a serious issue.

Part of the problem has been that suspended pupils from other middle schools are often transferred to West Baltimore, bringing trouble with them. Also, many pupils take the bus to school and often those buses are late or fail to stop for students. As a result, children start fights or cause trouble in nearby neighborhoods.

"My phone rings off the hook when buses do not show up," Garnett said.

Schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland -- who also attended the meeting -- offered a list of remedies, including a full-time police officer, full-time school resource officer and a crackdown by school truancy officers.

Copeland said that mediation experts will be provided on request to help smooth relations among school officials, parents and students.

West Baltimore resident Tammatha Woodhouse, whose two sons attended the school, said beatings and attacks are not new. She said she partially blames school administrators for the trouble because they have failed to "teach African-Americans about African-Americans."

"If I do not have self-identification, I do not have self-respect," she said. "We are turning our backs on our children, and our babies are dying."

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