By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 21, 2008
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is putting more stringent security measures in place at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest after 13 students were arrested in two fights this week.
When students return from spring break March 31, they will be confined to eating lunch in their classrooms instead of being able to sit with friends anywhere on the sprawling campus. Three additional security officers will be on duty, for a total of 10.
Rhee outlined the measures in a letter she plans to mail to parents tomorrow. In the letter, she says she is making the changes to "decrease the incidents of violence and to help all students remain focused on their learning and feel safer in school." Rhee said this was a short-term solution while officials work out "longer term plans to protect our students."
Parents say the problems are related to the transfer of ninth-graders, including older students with behavioral problems, to Wilson.
Mai Abdul Rahman, whose 18-year-old son was assaulted late last month, said she learned from detectives that her son was attacked by 18-year-old ninth-graders.
"They need serious help in terms of counseling and smaller classes," Rahman said. "How many kids are we going to suspend and expel? It's a cycle unless we deal with the issue."
Safety issues are not unusual at or limited to Wilson. In the city's high schools, students pass through metal detectors and visitors show proof of identity and sign in.
But spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said Rhee, who attended a PTSA meeting at the school Wednesday night, wanted to particularly address the Wilson situation after she and her office received phone calls and e-mails about reports of violence at the school.
"The chancellor is committed to examining security concerns across the [school system] to ensure the safety of all of our students," Hobson said.
Nineteen incidents involving assault or fights among students have been reported at Wilson this school year, with three months left. Hobson said 22 incidents were reported last school year.
Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes said other campuses have had problems this year. "It's like a School of the Week; every week, it's a different school," Groomes said. School and police officials could not provide school-violence figures yesterday to compare with Wilson's.
Five Wilson students were arrested this week in an incident stemming from arguments in the cafeteria. The next day, eight students were arrested in what Groomes called a "major altercation." Wilson took several steps to mitigate the problem, she said, such as having two student entrances, instead of three.
Rhee acknowledged that "we're having a problem, and that it's a serious problem, and that's recognition that I really welcome," Rahman said.
She said her son was hit with fists and kicked in the head after being jumped by a group of students in the school gymnasium Feb. 26. Rahman said she watched a video of the incident, which was captured on a hand-held camera.
All ninth-grade students were moved from junior highs to high schools this school year. That also caused problems at Ballou Senior High School, where ninth-graders from one neighborhood started fighting with students from another neighborhood, Groomes said.
In her letter to parents, Rhee said officials planned to meet with the staff of alternative programs to work on easing the transition of their students into a regular school environment.
Wilson has four students from the Oak Hill youth detention facility, 12 from the city's detention center on Mount Olivet Road NE and 11 from a program for suspended students, according to school system figures.