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Local: Education

Many students don't feel safe in school

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner
Barely half of students said they felt safe when they walked into Col. Zadok Magruder High School last year.

Magruder is not a chronically underperforming D.C. public school, but a Montgomery County high school where more than 97 percent of its senior class graduated last year, students showed up with a 94.6 percent attendance rate, and every student met state graduation requirements.

Just 55 percent of last year's Magruder students agreed with the statement "I feel safe in school" in a survey administered by the county's public school system SEmD a much lower number than the 71.2 percent of Magruder parents who agreed that "My child feels safe at school." Only 20 percent of students believe their belongings are safe at school and more than 60 percent agreed that "bullying is a problem."

Bullying, violence and other assaults have crept out of the District and now persist in the suburbs. Last week, a social studies teacher at Centreville High School in Fairfax was arrested for taking "indecent liberties" with a 16-year-old female student in 2007 and 2008. In Prince George's County, a student stabbed another at Northwestern High School during a fight Tuesday.

Least safe high schools
MontgomeryCounty
Safest high shools (according to students)
SchoolStudents agreeing with statement "I feel safe at school"Parents agreeing with statement "My child feels safe at school"
Walt Whitman91.5%96.2%
Thomas S. Wootton91.2%98.3%
Poolesville90.4%100%
Thomas Edison90.2%NA*
Walter Johnson89.7%97.9%
* Parents surveyed at home school so no data
SchoolStudents agreeing with statement "I feel safe at school"Parents agreeing with statement "My child feels safe at school"
Magruder55%71.2%
John F. Kennedy56.6%82.8%
Gaithersburg60%88.5%
Seneca Valley63.9%90.7%
Northwood65.1%82.5%
Fairfax County
Top 5 for weapons offenses
Lake Braddock Secondary School15
Mount Vernon High School8
Annandale High School7
South County Secondary School6
Westfield High School 6
Top 5 for offenses against students
Mount Vernon High School33
South County Secondary School21
South Lakes High School18
Annandale High School17
Oakton High School16

And in Montgomery, students feel much less safe than their parents think.

At least one in four students at 31 public middle and high schools in Montgomery did not agree with the statement "I feel safe in school" on the survey, up from 24 schools in 2009. About 77 percent of high school students said they felt safe at school, while 92 percent of parents believed their children felt safe. Almost half of students deemed bullying a problem, while less than 30 percent of parents said the same.

"I spent a day in the lunch period talking to students about getting an adult on board if there was any safety issue going on. But most of the kids ... didn't know me well enough to open up to this old lady," says Patty Winters, chairwoman of the safety committee for Magruder's Parent-Teacher-Student Association.

Winters said she has focused on a campaign against drunken driving in which a grim reaper dresses up and deems students "dead." But little is done regarding the 34 fights, three weapons incidents and 20 "attacks" that Magruder reported last year -- and those aren't the highest numbers in the district. Northwood topped with 45 attacks; Kennedy with 50 fights; and Gaithersburg with seven weapons incidents.

In Fairfax, there were 133 weapons incidents and 429 offenses against students in the public middle and high schools last year.

Jim McLain, security coordinator for the Fairfax school system, pointed to the roughly 170,000 students in the district: "You're talking about a pretty large town, and in spite of best efforts, things are just going to happen."

In a survey by Fairfax's government and school board, 50.8 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students said they had been bullied in the past year. Nearly 20 percent said someone had attacked them with the intention of seriously hurting them, and 8.8 percent said they had been threatened with a weapon.

Prince George's County declined to provide data, but its security issues, along with those of the District, are well-known. When Prince George's stepped up its attention to bullying, reports shot up from 77 in 2008-2009 to 347 incidents of bullying last year.

In D.C., interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson had to oust the private operator of Dunbar Senior High School after observing lax security. At most D.C. public high schools, security issues have declined in the past two years, but remain high. This school year, 51 students have been suspended for bringing weapons like knives, BB guns and box cutters to school.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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