District of Columbia regulations require the public schools to provide an equal educational opportunity for all of the city’s students.
That entails providing sufficient resources to enable each student to attain the knowledge and skills necessary to function as a useful citizen.
The city is failing to meet that responsibility.
A major barrier stands in the way of a significant number of students’ ability to equally participate in education. That obstacle is violence. Shootings, stabbings, assaults and murders in surrounding neighborhoods can sabotage students’ performance inside the schoolhouse.
The damaging impact of violence on academic achievement is not at issue, as Kimberly Quick, a senior policy associate at the Century Foundation, noted in a 2016 commentary. The school building, she observed, “is rarely a refuge.”
“Bullets do not always have to kill to destroy,” she wrote, describing children “trying to piece together a childhood” amid “perpetual” gun violence. “Their innocence is interrupted by a necessary fear,” she said, a constant worry about what they have to do just to stay alive — and the space that fear occupies in a child’s mind crowds out curiosity, discovery and confidence. When the question is survival, academics can take a back seat.
A 2015 Brookings Institution article titled “Guns and race: The different worlds of black and white Americans” reinforced the point. “Anxiety levels rise and cognitive functioning worsens among school children following a violent crime within half a mile of their home,” it said.
Now put yourself in the place of the children who attend Hendley Elementary School on Chesapeake Street SE.
One day last week, as WUSA9’s John Henry reported, they arrived at school to discover the building had been damaged by gunfire overnight. A bullet had penetrated a front window. Shell casings were found on a nearby block. Children had to walk around police tape to get to their classrooms. The teacher’s assignments must have been the last thing on their minds.
Two years ago, children at that same school had to go on lockdown after teachers, hearing gunfire, rushed them inside from the playground. A turf war was underway: eight shots fired; two men hit.
Since the beginning of 2019, Metropolitan Police Department data show there have been 12 violent crimes within 1,000 feet of Hendley Elementary.
City leaders must or should be aware that Hendley, tragically, does not stand alone.
Since the beginning of 2019, there have been:
●12 violent crimes, including one homicide, within 1,000 feet of Garfield Elementary School on Alabama Avenue SE;
● Nine violent crimes within 1,000 feet of Lawrence E. Boone Elementary School on Minnesota Avenue SE;
● Eight violent crimes, including two homicides, within 1,000 feet of C.W. Harris Elementary School on 53rd Street SE;
● Eight violent crimes within 1,000 feet of Ketcham Elementary School on 15th Street SE;
● Eight violent crimes, including one homicide, within 1,000 feet of Langley Elementary School on T Street NE;
● Five violent crimes, including two homicides, within 1,000 feet of Houston Elementary School on 50th Place NE.
These schools are located in the eastern part of the city, where the greatest concentration of violent crime incidents occur.
Unsurprisingly, the greatest number of students at risk of academic failure also live in these eastern neighborhoods.
In contrast, but also to no one’s surprise, elementary schools that have experienced zero violent crimes within 1,000 feet since the beginning of 2019 — Hearst Elementary School on 37th Street NW, Lafayette Elementary School on Broad Branch Road NW and Mann Elementary School on Newark Street NW — are located in the relatively violence-free western parts of the city. They are also among the best-performing schools.
Schools such as Hendley may have hard-working, dedicated principals and teachers, but they lack the safe and secure environments of schools in the western parts of the city.
That disparity cries out for a remedy.
School-based “resource officers” are not enough. They have little control over violence outside the school walls.
Nor are the city’s predictable but poorly delivered-on promises of stepped-up neighborhood patrols. They don’t last long anyway. The D.C. police have the authority to establish and enforce safety perimeters around schools — but only during the school day, and the perimeters can remain for just five consecutive days. That is too limited in scope.
The city should establish clearly marked protective perimeters within 1,000 feet of schools where violent crimes have occurred nearby. Trained security personnel should be immediately hired to monitor and oversee those zones. The security personnel would serve as protectors who are alert to the threat of violence or the actual commission of crimes. For enforcement, they would call on the D.C. police. What are needed most are eyes and ears that observe children walking to and from school and that are on the lookout for criminal activity.
Such full-time security personnel would help make it possible for students in high-crime areas to participate in education on the same stress- and worry-free basis enjoyed by their counterparts across town. That could help put equal educational opportunity within their reach.
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