Two weeks ago, Rita Jiminez was spending a lot of time at home, unemployed. Then on a Monday afternoon her 10-year-old son came home in a state of great agitation.
"He said, 'Mommy, there was a rape, a man at school!' . . . . My daughter also a student , she was terrified."
As it turned out, the Sept. 13 rape report was false, a student fabrication -- but it heightened already existing fears of crime in the southeast Washington neighborhoods near the school and elsewhere, and triggered what officials say is the strongest citywide outpouring of parental concern for school security they have seen.
Now, Jiminez and many other fearful and angry parents want to keep up the momentum of that concern. To do that, she has joined a new organization of 17 parents who spend their days -- with no pay -- patrolling the halls and playgrounds of Moten Elementary School at Morris and Elvans roads SE, where the rape report happened.
"I've never seen so many parents in that school at one time," said Jiminez. "It has to be a continuing thing. You have a lot of mothers who sit at home and watch soap operas. That's no good when they can be doing something for themselves and their children."
Shelton Lee, director of safety and security for the city's 170 schools, said he knows of no comparable instance in which a large number of parents, working with a school principal, have entered a school and actively patrolled the buildings full-time.
"I've never seen such a groundswell in terms of the concern of the community," he said. "We've got parents on doors and playgrounds and watching for dope pushers and loiterers . . . . We want to keep that level of sensitivity and awareness and participation."
In addition to the activity at Moten, Lee said 200 parents from across the city -- an unprecedented number -- called after the rape rumor to volunteer for security duty in various schools. Lee said they will be assigned to work at sports events, dances and other activities.
Many school principals such as Moten's Valerie S. Green responded to the rape report by instituting new security measures, including a requirement that students never be alone in hallways or washrooms. Green said she welcomes the parent patrols in her school and admires their attitude: "These people are self-starters!"
Also as a result of the widespread concern, D.C. school Superintendent Floretta McKenzie will declare Oct. 25-29 Safety and Security Awareness Week in the schools, complete with advertising, posters, an essay contest and other events, according to Lee.
Lee said he welcomes parental involvement because his own security staff is spread thin. He has 76 full-time unarmed guards in 41 secondary and 10 elementary schools during the day, leaving 119 of the city's schools without any professional daytime security personnel.
Six of these security aides were transferred to security from other duties after the rape scare. Two of them were placed in Moten, where they are working closely with the parent patrols.
Lee said there was one rape in a school last year -- of a high school girl by someone thought to have been from outside her school -- but none this year. There were 99 assaults inside city schools last year, most of them minor and between students, he said. He considers last year's 152 larcenies and 110 burglaries as more of a problem than assaults.
That the reported rape didn't actually happen is regarded as a blessing by the Moten parents. The point, they say, is that it easily could have happened in the 683-student school, high on a hill in an area of old apartment buildings and small brick houses inhabited mostly by lower income and unemployed people near the Frederick Douglass Home in old Anacostia.
"This block has been swamped with housebreakings. There's been shootings, rape, robbery," said Carol Luck, a parent who lives down the hill from Moten and who has joined Jiminez in patrolling the school.
Luck, born and raised in Anacostia, said crime was never before the problem there that it has been in recent years. "This is the first time I've ever heard a cry like this go up from the school on security matters," she said.
The parents spend their days walking the school hallways and the playground, talking with and helping the children outside the classrooms, checking empty rooms, guarding entrances and keeping an eye on people walking or in automobiles near the school.
A similar group of 23 parents was patrolling full-time in Wilkinson Elementary, Moten's sister school with prekindergarten through third-grade children nearby at Pomeroy and Erie streets SE. Moten has fourth- through seventh-grade children.
"We're trying to teach the children to be aware of safety," said Barbara Stewart, chairwoman of the new Moten Parents Volunteer Committee. "We had a safety assembly for them, telling them what kind of things to look out for, warning them to come to and from school in groups."
Carol Luck said she thinks the area's school security and crime problems are connected with a broader social issue. "Today while working in the school a little girl came up at lunch and threw her arms around me and said, 'Hi, Mommy,'" she said. "I said, 'Hi, baby, how you doin'?' It's a plea for some affection. It's the breakdown of the family that causes this problem."
Another patrolling parent, Shelia Ferguson, said she used to send her fifth-grade daughter to school in the morning with "a little prayer when she goes around the corner," and a telephone call to tell a school secretary that her daughter was on the way. Now Ferguson goes to school with her child and stays there.
On a day last week, Ferguson was patrolling a corner of Moten's large playground where hundreds of children ran about playing tag, jumping rope, shouting and occassionally hitting one another. "Children are children," she said. "You know they'll try to sneak off the grounds."
She said many children like to slip through a large opening in the playground fence to go to the store or elsewhere, and that she was watching to prevent this. "You know, you've got men cruising around here," she said.
Ferguson and the other parents remain on duty even after school to ensure that students go home rather than loitering around the school or nearby streets.
"The older kids from other schools come here and harass the younger kids," she said. The parents also try to prevent such behavior.
While a reporter watched, Ferguson and other parents watching the students on the Moten playground from time to time hailed older children walking by on the nearby streets and asked them why they weren't in school.
In one instance, one of these children was taken into the Moten principal's office to be held while his school was notified by telephone that he was off the grounds.
That same day, two parents were stationed at the front door to the school to intercept visitors and make sure they reported to the school office. One of them was Walter E.P. Luck, Carol Luck's husband, who is the sergeant-at-arms of the new parents group.
"I'm not working right now," he said. "There's a whole lot of parents not working right now, and that means they can help. I take an interest in my kids. There's more parents should be involved. Parents have got to get back to knowing just as much about their kids as the teachers do."
Another parent, Emanuelle Greene, said parent patrols are "something that should be done in all the schools. All of them should have this kind of community involvement. It's too bad they don't."
Although he knew the rape report was false, Greene said, "As far as we're concerned, it did happen. It certainly could have happened."
As Greene walked down a stairway on his patrol, he came upon a young man -- who turned out to be a student at the school -- standing alone on the stairs looking out a window at the crowded playground.
"You're not supposed to be standing in the hall," Greene told the youngster, taking him back outside.
In other moments, Greene checked rooms that happened to be empty. When they were dark, he turned on the lights. "I don't like a dark room," he said, noting that they might provide good hiding places.
Rita Jiminez's 8-year-old daughter, Olympia, enthusiastically delivered to a reporter this written reaction to her parents working in the school:
"I'm happy to know that my parents are there when there are problems like when people pick on people or get in a fight, 'cause they can stop it when teacher's aren't around. I think a Parent should have a reason for being a Parent volunteer like my mommy and daddy. They love me."