D.C. police and school officials said yesterday that recent incidents of violence reported in the city's schools should not be taken as an indicator that crime is reaching epidemic proportions in the public school system.
"I'm very distrubed about the incidents that have happened since Sept. 4 when school opened, said School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed. "We have had two major incidents in a period of two to three weeks. I find it hard to magnify it into something alarming. Where it is distressing, I don't find it an epidemic."
The two incidents to which Reed referred were the Sept. 10 fatal shooting of a 16-year-old Spingarn High School student in the school auditorium and last Friday's stabbing of a suspended student, also 16, at McKinley High School. A 17-year-old student was also stabbed near Woodson Senior High School in Northeast on Sept. 11.
"I don't see any increase in school violence," said Assistant D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner. "I think the media is blowing it out of proportion."
Neither Reed no Turner had any comparative figures yesterday on reported crime in the city's schools, but both said they do not believe it is increasing.
Both said they are concerned with an increasing number of nonstudents who, they said, create problems in the schools, and the spillage into the schools of neighborhood incidents. That was the case in Friday's incident at McKinley.
The 16-year-old who was stabbed had been suspended earlier in the week because he was involved in a fight, and was put out of the school on three occasions Friday. He was stabbed during an argument with a 15-year-old in the first-floor corridor of the school. The stabbing stemmed from an ongoing argument between the two over a girl, according to the school principal.
"We don't have any buildings that are built to keep people out," said Reed, who reemphasized his demands for better school security. The lack of strict school security has allowed an increasing number of drug peddlers to enter the schools, he said. "When we ring that bell at 8:45 a.m., we've got 1,000 to 3,000 youth in a centralized setting," Reed said. "We create a marketplace."
Also, Reed said guns are becoming more accessible to youth. In the shooting at Spingarn, the youth who brought the unregistered .25-caliber pistol to the school and passed it around among his friends, obtained it at home, Reed said. Adrian Precia, a 16-year-old student, was killed when the gun accidentally went off. An 18-year-old youth was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the shooting.
Reed said he did not consider the Spingarn shooting, which police believe was accidental, "a malicious act. It was stupid. A stupid youngster brought a loaded pistol to school . . ."
The superintendent said the 17-year-old student who brought the gun to school has been transferred to McKinley because officials felt that the youngster should be placed in "a new situation."
Athel Liggins, principal of McKinley, said the student initially was tarnsferred to Coolidge High School, but school officials there refused to enroll him and he was subsequently transferred to McKinley.
Reed said yesterday that McKinley was selected as a compromise with the youth's parents.
Turner said he has asked his district commanders to keep track of any reported incidents in the city's schoolss. In addition, he said police officers are assigned "short beats" around the city's high and junior high schools. Some officers have been assigned specifically to problem schools.
Reed said school officials are having ongoing meetings with representatives of the city's fire marshal's office to determine if there are some doors at the various schools which could be locked. Thus far, school officials have been prevented from locking school doors because of fire codes. He said some schools have more than 50 doors and the school system does not have the personnel to control who enters and leaves.
"The thing that bothers me is they have guards down at the District Building to protect the mayor and the City Council and guards at the Presidential Building (school headquarters), but we can't get guards in the school," said Reed. "If we can afford to protect our mayor and City Council, why in the hell can't we protect our kids?"
Reed said he has had offers from pareents who wish to partol the schools, but he said it is unsafe for parents as well as students, principals, and teachers to act as guards. "What are they going to do if a person confronts them with a gun or knife?" asked Reed, who said he has had a gun placed in his face by an outsider on five occasions at different schools in his 27 years in the school system.
The superintendent said the school system, which was forced to lay off 740 teachers because of budget cuts, has no money to hire guards. He said the school system needs more money if it is to solve its problems. "I'm not saying money will solve all our porblems," he said. "But, we've got to do what's right for the kids."