- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

The number of assaults with deadly weapons in D.C. schools has doubled in the past four years, even though the system has spent $8 million on metal detectors, cameras and security officers trying to keep students safe.
Information obtained after The Washington Times filed an open-records request shows that between the 1997-98 and the 2000-01 school years:
Assaults with deadly weapons shot up from 66 to 127.
Simple assaults in the school system rose from 384 to 475.
The number of children caught bringing concealed weapons to schools swelled from 329 to 423.
Robberies rose from 18 to 35.
Threats against students and staff increased from 156 to 225.
The number of incidents reported to the school system are as bad or worse than those of school systems with twice the number of students.
Last year alone, security personnel with the 68,449-student school district caught 423 students carrying concealed weapons. In Prince George's County, which has 137,299 students, 430 students were found carrying weapons. Montgomery County, with an enrollment of 136,653 students, had 235 students caught carrying weapons.
D.C. school officials, who provided the numbers for a report in The Times on school security only after a request was filed under the Freedom of Information Act, said the surge in incidents was the result of broader social problems and better reporting.
"We encourage our principals to report more now," said Patrick Fiel, chief of security for the District's public schools.
Still, reporting an incident to the school district is entirely up to a school's principal; it is not mandatory, and there are no clear rules.
"I'd love to say it is 100 percent, but it is not," said Steve G. Seleznow, chief of staff for the District's public schools. "There is a subjective element to reporting. A fight between a couple of children may be reported by one principal, but not by another."
School officials also said their numbers are not comparable with other school systems because of differences in the categories for reporting incidents.
Mr. Seleznow said the school system has made efforts, through better training of staff and increased security, to reduce the number of weapons being brought into schools. Since 1998, it has spent about $8 million on installing cameras, metal detectors and X-ray machines in all high schools and some middle schools.
"The problem is, when you try to institute these types of procedures, you have a risk of reporting higher numbers of incidents," said Mr. Seleznow, who believes the security measures have made schools much safer.
Superintendent Paul L. Vance did not return repeated calls seeking comment, but a spokesman quoted him as saying the school system "will be intensely vigilant in keeping our schools safe and putting in place programs that support" the development of students.
In his Northeast office, Mr. Fiel keeps some of the weapons caught by the metal detectors and X-ray machines: a 2-foot sword, a knife concealed in a walking stick, guns and several brass knuckles.
When it comes to reporting security incidents, Mr. Fiel said, a deadly weapon is not limited to a gun or a knife.
"If a student picks up a pencil and attacks another student, it is reported as an attack with a deadly weapon. That's the law," he said.
Mr. Fiel said security cannot control classroom behavior or the violence outside schools that sometimes finds its way in.
"I don't control the 200 gangs we deal with here or the frustrations of students," he said.
Students at Anacostia Senior High School in Southeast say they see fights break out almost every day.
"Guns, knives, baseball bats you name it, they are all there," said one 12th-grader who did not want to be identified.
He said security guards sometimes searched students but didn't always catch the weapons they were carrying.
Another student said weapons were brought in through the school's back door to elude security guards and metal detectors at the front door.
The 12th-grader said he often got involved in fights himself. "I never start it, but I go in and finish it," he said.
Jeremiah Diggs, 14, and Danny Dixon, 16, said they often see students attacking each other.
"Usually, they don't need anything more than their fists," said Danny, a ninth-grader.
The baseball bats can cause serious damage. A female student who was too afraid to give her name described a fight between two students last month. "Then a third student snuck out from behind the vending machine and hit one of the students with a baseball bat," she said.
The student who was struck had to be taken to the hospital. "It looked real bad," she said.
Iris Toyer, president of Parents United for D.C. Schools, said she was worried about the culture of violence in city schools.
"It is frightening that all these weapons are around our children, but it is also frightening that children feel they need to have them either to protect themselves or to fight," she said.

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