Schools confront gang violence

Montgomery County public school students returned to classes yesterday with visits from County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Superintendent Jerry D. Weast — and under a strong police presence.

“There’s a lot of concern around about gang activity, and of course we’re geared up for that,” Mr. Weast said outside of Wheaton High School.

Police officers have been assigned to each of the school system’s 23 high schools to confront violence among teen gangs.

The problem has been increasing in the District, Northern Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

On Aug. 5, two summer school students were stabbed outside Springbrook High School in White Oak.

Mr. Duncan, a Democrat, said the county is spending the necessary money on security to protect its 139,447 students in 194 schools, including two new middle schools — Lakeland Park in Gaithersburg and A. Mario Loiederman in Wheaton, the new name for Belt Junior High, which was closed in 1983.

“We want our children to worry about what is in their schoolbooks, not what’s happening outside,” he said after greeting students at Wheaton as they got off the yellow school buses.

Mr. Duncan described gang violence as a “horrible thing,” but said county officials are “moving forward to address the issue.”

At Wheaton, David Parrish, the school system’s security team leader, admonished a student to remove his baseball cap, which was atop a bandanna, worn gang-style.

However, most of the warnings about inappropriate attire were directed at girls revealing bare midriffs and belly buttons.

Principal George Arlotto told the girls to cover themselves with shirts or jackets before entering the building.

Anne Arundel County public school officials reported no problems on the first day for their 74,500 students in 129 schools.

“We’re doing great today,” said Robert C. Leib, the school system’s chief of staff. “It’s been very calm. This morning we had zero bus accidents. Usually we have a number of fender benders.”

Yesterday also was opening day for Loudoun County Public Schools, which opened two new high schools and three new elementary schools. The system now has 68 schools for 47,467 students, 3,453 more than last year.

The most significant change for Loudoun schools was lengthening the school day by 20 minutes and beginning foreign language instruction at elementary schools.

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