District school and city officials, alarmed by recent attacks on schoolchildren, yesterday unveiled a plan to tighten security at schools as well as to make teachers and students more aware of child and sexual abuse and how to prevent them.
Schools Superintendent Floretta McKenzie, joined by Mayor Marion Barry and Police Chief Maurice Turner at an afternoon press conference, said visitors to schools will be strictly regulated and required to wear badges, volunteer monitors will be posted at elementary schools before and after school hours and fences may be erected at school property near wooded areas.
However, City Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) and William Brown, president of the citywide PTA, criticized officials for not doing more, sooner, to protect schoolchildren.
Mason, head of the Council's Education Committee and a former teacher, and Brown, said that there have been ongoing security problems at schools.
"What is of prime concern to the PTA," Brown said, "is that many of the things that have supported these safety and security activities have been pointed out in the past after we had a number of other incidents."
Board of Education President David H. Eaton countered that 99 percent of schoolchildren are perfectly safe and that security has only recently become an issue. However, he said school officials were looking into how security officials handled three separate incidents at Bancroft Elementary School in Northwest.
In addition to the Bancroft incidents, in which 5-year-old girls were molested or abducted, there have been four other actual or attempted assaults on schoolchildren since the start of school in September.
In the worst incident, a 13-year-old Northeast girl, Latanya Lassiter, was fatally stabbed last Saturday near Woodson Junior High School.
Officials, calling the incidents "an unusual and alarming rash of recent assaults on young people," said they were taking steps to tighten security during the school day and boost the monitoring of school grounds before and after hours, when a majority of the attacks have occurred.
The school system, McKenzie said, also will start to provide instruction on personal safety, child and sexual abuse prevention in its curricula for all students. And, she said, teacher training on these topics will start in two weeks.
Officials stressed, though, that "everyone" -- not just police, schools or parents -- must share the responsibility of providing safety for children.
"One way every citizen can assist is by repeatedly suggesting general rules of safety with every youngster they know," McKenzie said. "While all our schools are emphasizing basic safety precautions, such as, don't talk to strangers and travel in pairs, all adults can help in this education process."
"Young people in particular tend to hold on to the unfounded belief that nothing bad can happen to me," she said. "Consequently, simple safety advice needs to be presented repeatedly, but without undue alarm to children from a number of different sources."
Council member Mason said criminal activities have affected schools in the past and inadequate school security is "not a new problem."
She said the new plans were "stop-gap things" formed "in a hurry" and urged McKenzie and Eaton to ensure that the new safety measures were enforced immediately and closely supervised.
Meanwhile, school officials said the incidents at Bancroft Elementary were not immediately reported to the superintendent or parents and an official recommendation to place a security aide at the school was not heeded until last week.
Eaton said "an investigation has been started" into the Bancroft incidents and McKenzie has been ordered by the board to "report the results as soon as possible."
McKenzie said she had "no comment" on the investigation