Violence at D.C. charter schools prompts more police

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By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

D.C. officials have decided to give charter schools the same police protection as regular D.C. public schools after a two-month-long spate of violence near a charter school in Northeast Washington.

Educators and some officials had complained that the absence of regularly posted police officers at charter schools was putting students at risk. At Friendship Collegiate Academy in Northeast, at least eight students have been assaulted or robbed after class since September, and several large fights have broken out in front of the school. The violence quieted last month, although it didn't disappear, after police increased staffing in the area during dismissal time.

The change, announced last week by Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso, will take effect next month, and details will be worked out in the next few weeks. The District has roughly 100 school resource officers, who are stationed in D.C. Public Schools according to the greatest need. Those assessments will be extended to charter schools, which enroll 38 percent of the city's public school students.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said last month that the city doesn't have enough police officers to staff every school. It is not clear whether the ranks of school resource officers will be bolstered for the policy change.

Charter-school advocates praised the move.

"We're very pleased about that news, and the schools are, too," said Ariana QuiƱones-Miranda, director of outreach for Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a charter advocacy organization in the District.

But at least one council member cautioned that there might be a gap between rhetoric and reality.

"The proof is in the pudding. They actually have to make the officers available," said Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who oversees the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. He questioned why changes aren't being made immediately.

The principal of Friendship Collegiate Academy said she will be happy once police are in place.

"I'm a little skeptical," Peggy Pendergrass said. "It's exciting to hear, and I'll be even more excited when someone actually comes."

One reason she said she is cautious: Even after months of complaints, the police presence is still spotty. On the Monday before Thanksgiving, no police were present during dismissal, she said.

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