School due more police presence

Attacks near Pitts/Ashburton spark move

March 22, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Mayor Sheila Dixon said last night that Baltimore police will increase patrols near Dr. Nathan A. Pitts/Ashburton Elementary/Middle School after a series of attacks on its students walking in the neighborhood.

Dixon's comments came during a meeting at City Hall with about 150 principals and other school officials as part of a series of community forums about how to combat violence.

The principals offered suggestions to Dixon on how to improve school safety, ranging from increasing mental health services for children to creating public service announcements urging students not to use foul language.

Evelyn Randall, principal of Furman L. Templeton Elementary, said it is becoming necessary to assign police officers to elementary schools, not just middle and high schools. She spoke of a crossing guard at her school who had a gun put to her head a few months ago by a man who said he would shoot her if she did not get off his corner. Yesterday, she said, a disgruntled parent stormed into a classroom to curse at an instructional aide.

"I am in an elementary school," said Randall, whose school is run under a contract with the for-profit Edison Corp. "It is difficult for me at times to keep teachers because they simply say, `I don't feel safe.'"

School police officers are assigned full time only to middle and high schools. Roving officers monitor groups of elementaries.

Meanwhile, more than 100 parents attending a PTA meeting at Ashburton also asked school officials for a greater police presence. Sgt. Francis Edwards, a school officer assigned to several schools in the area, told the crowd that no one from Ashburton informed him about the attacks until yesterday.

Details of the attacks were unclear. City police said they were only assisting the school police, while the latter said city police had handled the incidents.

But a letter that Ashburton administrators and the PTA president sent home Monday said that two students were assaulted three weeks ago after school in the Dolfield business area by young men who got out of a blue car. Last week, three students were robbed at gunpoint after school.

"It grieves us to report that several of our students have been the victims of gang-related violence," the letter says. "This really concerns us; thankfully the children involved are OK."

At the Ashburton PTA meeting, parents talked about safety concerns at the school, including students opening the side doors for youths who are not enrolled there and students congregating after school. Assistant Principal Sheryll Wilson-McFadden told parents that they need to start picking their children up from school on time.

A city police officer who focuses on gangs in the Northwestern District suggested to the parents that the school might want to change its uniform. Students are required to wear red shirts to school, but youths can be attacked for wearing red while walking through Bloods gang territory if they are not members, he said.

Interim schools Chief Executive Officer Charlene Cooper Boston's proposed budget includes $1 million for more school police officers. It does not specify where extra officers would be assigned.

Boston issued a news release saying she would present her school safety initiatives at last night's forum with Dixon. But when Boston raised her hand at the meeting to speak, Dixon responded, "No, you will listen." Dixon said she wanted to hear directly from principals and others who interact with children.sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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