In the wake of the deaths of two Wilson High School students Feb. 1, school officials have overreacted by instituting a closed-door policy for the remainder of regular season basketball play. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, Assistant Superintendent for Student Affairs Ralph Neal and athletics chief Allen Chin have ruled that only students and parents may attend games. Such restrictions will not stop killers and assailants from carrying out their cold-blooded acts on students away from school. So the new policy needs a more thoughtful approach.
The impetus for the policy change was a fight at a basketball game, when Wilson senior Andre Wallace got into a scuffle with another young man. The fisticuffs, which were captured on videotape, apparently had something to do with Andre’s girlfriend, Natasha Marsh. Andre and Natasha reportedly left the game, went to the grocery store and parked in front of her family’s home in the Brookland section of Northeast. As they unloaded groceries, a Ford Expedition pulled up and began blasting. Police have identified the suspects, and they have located the vehicle. Andre and Natasha, meanwhile, were buried side-by-side yesterday in Fort Lincoln Cemetery.
The senseless attack, despite being carried out off campus, sent chills throughout the city, where parents, coaches and students are now questioning whether the new security policy would have prevented the violence. Also, they are dismayed by the consequences of such a hard-line policy, one that shuts out parents whose children attend other schools as well as families with younger children who live in the neighborhood. The policy closes the door on families who support a school but not necessarily a particular player.
School games are family affairs, sometimes with two and three generations of friends and family cheering on a high school team as they do at Woodson, Eastern, Anacostia, Dunbar, Spingarn and Roosevelt. Those schools are big draws for sports fans. At least they used to be because in those schools’ neighborhoods, high school sports are often the center of night-time family fun. Now school gymnasiums, which ordinarily are packed throughout the season, are barely half full. Concession stands, where money is raised specifically for sports activities, are bringing in fewer and fewer dollars. Schools are also losing thousands of dollars because of fewer ticket sales. Still, most important is the loss of community spirit.
D.C. coaches are frustrated by the attendance restrictions as well. “Normally we have a packed gym,” Bob Headen, athletic director at Woodson High, told this page yesterday. “Now we are practically empty.” Said his varsity football coach, Gregory Fuller, “All the (system) needs to do is give us some support and then we can work this (violence issue) out as a community.” Their comments echoed those of other coaches, including Doc Robinson, the Spingarn varsity basketball coach who lost one of his players last fall to gun violence.
Such serious policy changes, especially those made in haste, warrant more careful deliberations. At the very least school officials must consult regularly with Police Chief Chuck Ramsey, the city’s primary enforcer of law and order. One alternative worthy of their consideration is fairly obvious: a visible police presence. Another is assigning security guards at the visiting school to attend away games. There are sure to be other proposals on the table and there must be.
Violence and other crimes are hardly a new phenomenon in D.C. Public Schools. For years we’ve read of the gunplay, knifings and drug problems that occur on campus, and officials have enforced a number of sensible anti-crime measures that have helped curb the violence. Chief among them are closed-campuses and dress codes, metal detectors, student ID cards and, in some schools, electronic surveillance. However, the new security policy goes too far by locking the “public” out of public schools.