Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nearly a dozen youths were arrested Wednesday morning at Ballou High School in Anacostia after an ongoing feud between street gangs spilled into the building.

The arrests were made less than a week after D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) officials fired nearly 400 employees in a cost-cutting move and came on the heels of last week’s collapse of Hawk One Security Inc., the school system’s private security company, under a $4.5 million debt to the Internal Revenue Service.

Hawk One blamed its financial woes on untimely payments by the school system. An unspecified number of the company’s 300 school security officers had failed to show up for work Friday, and school officials had to scramble for a replacement agency.

On Monday, DCPS issued a statement saying that 262 officers were deployed to give all D.C. schools a full complement of security. The statement said Metropolitan Police and the DCPS Office of School Security would deploy officers at schools that had not received a full deployment of private security guards.

On Wednesday, violence broke out in the technology wing of Ballou some time after 10 a.m., as two rival crews, “One Deuce” and “Congress Park,” took their ongoing feud onto school property, police Lt. R. Thomas Jr. said.

“Crew members were fighting, there were a number of arrests,” Lt. Thomas said. He would not say whether anyone was injured.

Sources close to school officials said the youths were taken to the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services for booking. A department spokesman, Reggie Sanders, said that is the usual procedure for teen arrests, but would not confirm that the youths were processed at the agency.

Shortly before noon, Ballou was still in a state of chaos, as officials tried to restore order and respond to parents who were angry about security conditions at the school. The front doors to the school were locked and visitors were required to pass through a metal detector monitored by officers with the private security firm Securitas Security Services.

Ballou Principal Rahman Branch did not respond to requests for an interview.

“Those boys from One Deuce don’t even go to this school,” said Anita Pollard, of Southeast, as she marched toward the school entrance. “My son is little, and he got jumped by seven boys, then he got locked up. He ain’t even into all this mess.”

John Hope, a behavioral counselor with First Home Care, said similar fights broke out last week at Ballou and McKinley Tech Senior High School, just as Hawk One was going out of business.

“A fight starts in the street, comes into school, the school tries to resolve it, and it spills back out into the street,” Mr. Hope said. “The kids will take advantage of any loophole in security, and they keep fighting until they get payback.”

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s office confirmed a total of 11 arrests.

“Since the beginning of the school year, [school and police officials] have facilitated ongoing mediation sessions between the two groups involved, and we will continue to work together with the school community to promote conflict resolution and to maintain a safe learning environment for all students,” Rhee spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said in an e-mail. She did not respond to further questions.

But questions persist among parents of the children who attend Ballou.

“It’s ridiculous, it don’t make much sense,” said Angela Searles, a Metro bus driver who came to the school to pull her ninth-grade son out. “Kids are getting jumped, getting black eyes. I came and got my son.”

It remains unclear how many police, schools police and private security officers were deployed at Ballou on Wednesday.

Police spokeswoman Traci Hughes referred all questions to the school system.

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