School fire evacuation leads to fighting outside

Fracas involves pupils at Highlandtown Middle

October 20, 2004|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

A fight erupted among dozens of Highlandtown Middle School students outside the school yesterday afternoon, shortly after a fire set in a bathroom forced the school to be evacuated, authorities said. Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the small blaze.

Outside the school, pupils were sprayed with a Mace-like gas during the melee, said Officer Troy Harris, a city police spokesman.

Three were taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment, he said.

Police used the gas after a pupil began fighting with an officer, a school official said. Harris said it was unclear whether school or city police used the gas.

There were no arrests, according to police.

The school closed early yesterday, and is expected to reopen today with extra staff members and school police officers.

Jeffery N. Grotsky, the school system's chief of staff, said some pupils left school grounds to continue fighting.

"Things were so out of sorts ... that they just didn't feel they could get the kids back in and continue the day appropriately," Grotsky said.

Firefighters were called to the East Baltimore school at about 12:15 p.m. to put out the fire, which was contained to one bathroom stall, said department spokesman James Gardner.

More than 25 city police officers arrived to help school police control the fracas that broke out after students evacuated the building near Patterson Park.

The fight was brought under control about 15 minutes after city police arrived, Harris said.

The fire yesterday was the latest in a series of small blazes and false fire alarms that have caused disruptions at several city schools this academic year.

Gardner, of the Fire Department, said publicity concerning the fires at other schools may have prompted the incident at Highlandtown Middle.

"It seems students know the media has a tendency to show up when there's a fire in the building, and that only adds to the problem," Gardner said.

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