- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

Ballou High School has been in the news much of late, mostly because of a Feb. 2 fatal shooting that occurred inside the school. Last week, we learned that Ballou’s principal had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, which was spawned by the shooting. Unfortunately, neither the shooting nor the personnel action on the principal even begin to tell the true story of Ballou, a troubled high school that has operated in crisis mode since the start of the school year.

September: Teachers and counselors fail to give classroom schedules to scores of Ballou students. Administrators blamed that problem on a computer virus. So, students with no schedules were forced to sit out each school day in the cafeteria, where they were warehoused until another crisis struck. “[T]he cafeteria scene had turned into a test of patience. No homework, no books, no pop quizzes,” Washington City Paper reported in its March 5 cover story. “The curriculum consisted of playing Spades, eating Doritos, guzzling Mountain Dews, talking about football, shooting air hoops, wrestling, slapping high fives, gossiping, and running around. Each period came and went, marked only by the rotation of teachers charged with baby-sitting … There was little effort to turn the mess hall into a study hall.”

October: A student steals mercury from an unsecured science lab and spills it inside the school. Until the school is deemed safe — a month later — students are shuttled back and forth from Ballou, which is in Southeast, all the way downtown to the old Washington Convention Center. However, only Ballou students with schedules are allowed inside for classes.

November: Four weeks before the end of the advisory, students and faculty return to Ballou. But a fight breaks out in the cafeteria their very first day back, and school and anti-gang authorities cite a protracted dispute between two gangs in Southeast. The tensions spill over on Thanksgiving Day, when Ballou played in the football championship game. Fortunately, there were no major incidents. By the end of the first advisory, City Paper said, “Seven students were busted with concealed weapons. Four were caught with drugs … and [there were] two incidents in which shots were fired on school grounds.”

December and January: The “beef” between two Southeast gangs remained unresolved, despite months of talks between the youths, school administrators, and security and anti-gang authorities. More disputes break out in the cafeteria and the hallways. Said City Paper: “Students adopted certain hallways for weed smoking. Others colonized stairwells for all-day craps games.”

February: Two male students begin arguing, and shots ring out. One student — a 17-year-old football star who was in the ninth grade — dies, while the other is charged in his slaying. School officials cry out for tighter security, as lawmakers grill school officials about the security contract.

March:Ballou’s principal is “placed on administrative leave just two weeks after having taken emergency sick leave,” The Washington Times reported on March 17. Yesterday, the Common Denominator, a biweekly, reported that school investigators “discovered a lack of financial records” at Ballou and “found a safe containing more than $12,000 in cash and numerous undeposited checks and money orders.” Also, the newspaper reported that another boy who played football for Ballou was slain on March 19.

To briefly recap what is occurring at this school in chaos: Teachers and counselors at Ballou are unprepared for the start of the school year; students waste weeks outside their classrooms; students openly smoke dope and shoot dice in the hallways; school authorities are aware of a violent dispute between two gangs; a student is mortally wounded in the hallway; the principal, as well as those school employees who he managed and those who managed him, all continue to collect paychecks. This is not the message we want to send to young people.

Moreover, none of what happened this school year at Ballou is new to the school. The blatant mismanagement is as commonplace as the crime problems. The fact that thousands of dollars were in the principal’s safe begs several questions. While we appreciate the investigations that finally are underway — albeit at the expense of young lives — we’re not alone in urging that more be done. A probe by federal authorities would be more reassuring.

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