- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008


Violence in and around D.C. Public Schools is in the headlines again following several recent incidents. Chancellor Michelle Rhee is facing the crucial question of what to do, and she is certainly one of the key stakeholders who should be on the hot seat. But make no mistake - Mrs. Rhee cannot be held solely responsible for the problem and its solutions.

The District continues to take a piecemeal approach regarding both youthful offenders and youthful victims.

The D.C. Council on Thursday rightly grilled the chancellor on school safety and security. After all, it falls to Mrs. Rhee to provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive to teaching and learning.

But the problem did not begin with Mrs. Rhee’s tenure. Things now stand precisely as they did 20 years ago, when the then-raging school safety debate was over school uniforms and the role such school-attire policy could and could not play in curbing school violence. The school-uniform debate was won by the advocates of the it’s-the-culture-stupid argument, and now many D.C. schools have adopted school-uniform policies.

The next logical step should have been a comprehensive anti-youth-violence strategy. But no. Instead of developing a thoughtful strategy, city leaders focused on security - naively thinking that deploying security guards and installing metal detectors would mean that guns, knives and other weapons would no longer make their way through schoolhouse doors. T

heir short-sighted policy meant nothing really changed. Not only are weapons still inside the schools, but they are in the hands of youth who claim they need weapons to defend themselves. Next up as “solutions”: contracting with private security firms; turning security over to the Metropolitan Police Department; reinstating curfews; tougher expulsion policies. That is the short list; you get the picture. That’s what we mean by piecemeal approach.

So, here we are - barely one semester into the 2008-09 school year - and school violence remains for all practical purposes unabated. Teachers are assaulted by students. Students are assaulted by students. Youths from one community show their disdain for students from another community with violence.

The following is a recent example of student-on-teacher violence. At one school, Hart Middle School, at least three incidents of teacher assaults have been documented this school year. The status of the students who were involved is unclear. Mrs. Rhee acted expeditiously regarding Hart’s principal by dismissing her. The chancellor then dispatched an interim principal and beefed up security with additional guards.

Both moves, while justifiable, bolster our argument about the lack of a citywide plan to curb youth violence. Just as there is no single reason why youth are violent, there is no single solution. What’s more, even when it comes to preventing further violence after the fact, school authorities fall short. What happened recently at a high school located in the same section of the city as Hart Middle School provides the perfect example. This case proves that even when school officials think they are doing the right thing when violence breaks out, they place students and teachers alike in jeopardy.

On Nov. 19, the day before Mrs. Rhee sat in the hot seat, here’s what happened at Anacostia High School: one arson fire; four students stabbed; one student suffered an asthma attack during the violence; the school was on lockdown and students were coaxed onto the outdoor football field; dust-ups among students were stirred anew. In the end, no one was teaching, no one was learning, and the school was neither safe nor secure. The genesis of the stabbings: A disturbance that began in the neighborhood and spilled inside the school.

As clear as that picture is, here is another the proves authorities are in denial: Because Anacostia High is in a section of the city that is terrorized every day by gun violence, authorities positioned the entire Anacostia student body and teaching corps as sitting ducks by sending them onto that outdoor field.

The chief executives of states and cities across the nation exercise their prerogatives to declare “a state of emergency” when devastating hurricanes, forest fires and other forces of nature blow their way. The forces of human nature are overwhelming D.C. Public Schools. The problem is not Mrs. Rhee’s alone, and neither are the solutions. A citywide strategy that pulls in parents, the faith community, law enforcement and other stakeholders is in order.

The piecemeal approach is leaving every segment of the city vulnerable to bloodletting and ne-er-do-wells who threaten innocents. If City Hall has to declare “a state of emergency” to educate our children and to ensure their safety and security, so be it.

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