- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

The District’s low-income and working-class families have spoken and spoken clearly: Make schools safer and raise the bar on teachers. The residents made their priorities known back in November, during Mayor Tony Williams’ third summit. At the summit, 33 percent of participants made under $25,000 and 24 percent made between $25,000 and $49,000. While the mayor and most lawmakers heard those voices, the superintendent and other school authorities turned a deaf ear. As elected officials prepare the fiscal 2005 budget, it will be interesting to see who delivers what. Analysis from the summit shows that, when asked for their No. 1 priority regarding education, 22 percent said “make schools safer for learning” and 21 percent said “improve the quality of teaching.” When asked what their No. 2 priority is, 24 percent said “improve the quality of teaching.” Teaching and learning in a safe and secure environment is seemingly beyond the reach of school authorities.

The mayor and Police Chief Chuck Ramsey last week announced a long-needed plan to tighten school security. Their proposal includes patrols by officers and beefed-up electronic surveillance, and follows several gun incidents, including at least two fatal gun shootings this school year that involved gangs. Also, D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous introduced a draft proposal last week that would strip the school system of its security authority and place it where it belongs — in the hands of law enforcers. “I think we need to take away any functions from the school system that do not involve teaching our children,” Mr. Chavous said. We agree, and again urge proponents of both proposals to work closely with fire officials so as not to undermine safety concerns.

School officials and some lawmakers think otherwise. Interim Superintendent Elfreda Massie should have stood alongside the mayor and the chief to show her support for families who are outraged and frustrated at the blatant violence. Instead, she issued a derisive and divisive statement that called the plans a band-aid approach to youth-on-youth bloodshed, claiming that “schools are not beats, and our students are not criminals.” Such criticisms, of course, fail to acknowledge that schools are indeed part of neighborhood beats and that the gang violence frequently spills inside school buildings. The superintendent simply has yet to grasp the sense of urgency expressed by parents and other policy-makers in recent months. She even said that police officers might be insensitive “to issues surrounding child psychology and adolescent behavior.”

Obviously, Miss Massie, who has yet to propose any semblance of an alternative anti-school violence plan, is out of touch with reality. The saving grace for demanding parents, teachers and students is that Elfreda Massie is interim superintendent.

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