Students Walk Out to Protest Security Policy

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee says the security change at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School is an interim policy.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee says the security change at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School is an interim policy. (By Kevin Clark -- Post)
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By V. Dion Haynes and Dan Keating
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nearly 100 Woodrow Wilson Senior High School students walked out and streamed onto the school's football field yesterday to protest the loss of their free lunch period, part of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's new security plan aimed at quelling violence at the Northwest campus.

Responding to the recent arrest of 13 students for fighting, Rhee halted the policy of allowing students to go anywhere on campus for lunch and ordered students to eat boxed meals in their classrooms. The change went into effect yesterday, the students' first day back after a weeklong spring break. Rhee had deemed it a short-term solution while a long-range plan is devised.

During the second lunch period about noon, dozens of students left the building from a rear entrance and assembled peacefully on the football field. About 30 minutes later, the students began returning to the building.

Some students expressed dissatisfaction with the security policy in other ways, such as wearing black armbands and promoting an alternative to Rhee's proposal.

"I was angry at the actions the chancellor has taken," said senior Lena Solow, 18, who was not part of the walkout on the football field. She was among several students who urged Rhee to adopt their security plan, which they call the Wilson Peace Initiative. It calls for groups of students and teachers to patrol the halls and report fights to security guards.

"A big part of what we're opposing is not the measures but how they're doing it," Solow said. "They're not consulting parents, students or teachers."

Alexis Chaney, 17, who was among students who met Rhee last week, said, "I felt they wanted us to nod along and not have us come up with a plan."

Rhee's spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, disagreed, saying the chancellor was impressed with the students. "She told them it was a good plan and well thought out and she would definitely consider incorporating aspects of their proposal into the final plan."

Interim Principal Jacqueline Williams declined to comment.

Wilson has had 22 violent or dangerous incidents such as weapons found, fights or threats this school year, according to records kept by private security guards and obtained by The Washington Post. The records run from August through January.

The most potentially dangerous event involved a male student who brought kerosene to school on Halloween and told a counselor he intended to set the school on fire. The counselor talked him out of the plan.

Many of the events happened at the start of the school year. During the first two weeks, there was a fight, a robbery involving punches to the face and the discovery of three knives and two box cutters, all in separate incidents.

In at least six of the 22 incidents, police filed criminal charges.

Some parents have blamed the fighting in part on an influx of students from youth detention centers and from alternative programs for suspended students.

Many of those students are 18-year-old freshmen. The overall enrollment of ninth-graders increased at high schools this year when the school system disbanded junior highs.

Some students said they thought Rhee's assessment of violence at the school was overblown.

Others called for more social workers and psychologists to provide support for troubled students. They also said security guards do too little to break up fights.

One senior said many students don't respect the security guards. "They see them and consider them a joke."

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