The school bell rang for the first time at Winston Educational Center, 31st and Erie streets SE, two years ago. "Everything went so smoothly," a teacher recalled about the modern, windowless, open-space school for students in preschool through junior high. "It was like a storybook, ideal."
But angry parents, at a meeting with two school board members last week, demanded that the school be closed because of recent fights and violence there. Some parents threatened to keep their children home if the school remained open.
About 40 parents and 25 teachers packed into the small basement of Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church last week and blamed the sudden, violent outbreaks on the Board of Education's recent decision to transfer 176 students from Kramer are making it impossible for teachers to conduct classes, said Sidney Glee, the Winston Neighborhood Council chairman who led the group.
"I asked my son what he did in school today," one parent said, "and he said, 'We just sat. It was too noisy to do anything,'"
Reuben Pierce, regional superintendent for the Anacostia area, which includes Kramer and Winston, explained that attendence boundaries of all junior high schools in the region were recently adjusted to relieve overcrowding.
In the first angry minutes of last week's meeting, the group demanded that Winston boundaries be redefined to exclude "the troublemakers."
An emergency meeting of the boundary committee was then held this week, but members decided that no boundary changes would be made at this time. The committee could not justify and change of boundaries, Pierce said, because Winston's enrollment is not up to capacity. Kramer is operating at 100 percent capacity, he said. Pierce is expected to report back to a second meeting of the parent-faculty group in a meeting scheduled today.
Some parents at last week's meeting complained that disruptive, sometimes violent students were simply being sent to the principal's office, chastized and returned to class.
Winston principal Marie Marshall explained that the procedure for removing a student from a district school involves an initial two-day suspension that must be followed by proper documentation of the student's actions.
"Any student proven to have committed gross misbehavior will be removed as of the day of the act," Pierce said.
Marshall later said she rather bring parents in first and try to mediate serious problems.
Marshall said later that nine additional teachers would be assigned immediately to teach junior high grades at Winston, which may relieve overcrowding and give the faculty more control over the students. Only five teachers were assigned to the junior high level when school opened this month. The addition of teachers is the result of a school board decision made last week to reinstate teaching positions cut from the staff originally proposed for Winston.
Marshall guessed that 10 to 15 students were causing the disruption at the school but could not say how many actual attacks on students and teachers had occurred. Some parents at the meeting admitted they were reporting problems involving their children for the first time. One woman said her 12-year-old daughter needed five stitches in her head after a fight with another student last week. She said she did not know if that student was transferred from Kramer. In an emotional outburst, another tearful mother talked about frightened children running home from school each day.
Meanwhile, some teachers at Winston said they are keeping their classroom doors locked during class so that students won't run in or out to cause trouble, while six full-time security guards patrol the school's halls.
Concerned about these measures, one parent complained, "We don't want our school to be a jailhouse."
As Winston Neighborhood Council chairman, Glee took a week's leave from his job last week to monitor the halls at Winston, calm disruptive students and prevent more attacks. He said he is taking his 13-year-old son out of school because "I have to. I owe him an education."