The thanks from a few bad actors? Two fires set in the bathrooms a few weeks ago. The second, on October 11, forced an evacuation of the entire school. Repairs were estimated at $150,000.
"In some way," Principal Pete Cahall wrote to parents, "I do not want to think or talk about the two incidents that we had in the last two weeks with fires being set in the bathrooms, but I am confident that we have turned the page on this type of destructive behavior."
Cahall has struggled with discipline in the city's largest public high school. By most measures, he has been succeeding. He told parents the fires had been investigated, he had fingered four students, he would recommend expulsion and was "pressing for the most severe criminal charges."
Near as I can tell, there have been no criminal charges, though cases against juveniles are often under wraps. Here's the official word from the school system:
"We have investigated the situation and took appropriate actions but cannot comment further on these incidents."
Bottom line: we're not sure anyone suffered any consequences, which is too often the result in D.C. But the two fires raise a much larger problem, for Cahall, Wilson and the entire school system.
Wilson High has too many students, period. The new facility was designed to educate 1,500 students, which has been Wilson's average enrollment over the past decade or so. Cahall informed parents in a recent missive the current student population stands at 1,648. At that number, Cahall's efforts to get kids to class on time, to keep the halls free of stragglers, to secure the doors, to keep bad actors from setting fires are much more difficult, if not impossible.
No one -- neither the politicians nor the school brass -- wants to face the fact that school boundaries are out of whack. Wilson's boundaries stretch from the Potomac River to the Anacostia. It draws students from Upper Caucasia west of Rock Creek, through Georgetown and downtown all the way to the rough neighborhoods of Southwest. That expanse of nearly half of the city's land mass has created a diverse student body that works and thrives.
But, in the words of one parent, "it is completely unsustainable." Not because diversity causes conflict. Wilson revels in its mix. It's unsustainable because the new Wilson High and the improved system of feeder schools have pumped up demand among white families. Wilson is becoming a neighborhood school. Alice Deal Middle School, new and improved and right next door, will fill Wilson in a year or two. How do we keep Wilson diverse and control its population?
Until the political and school leaders confront the boundary issues -- fraught with race and class and toxic memories -- Wilson will be a tinder box, vulnerable to another match.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Harry Jaffe's column of Tuesday, October, 25, reported the number of homicides in D.C.'s Seventh Police District at 44 and said the number has increased from last year. The correct number is 18, and the homicide rate has decreased by 50 percent. Jaffe was referring to homicides east of the Anacostia River, which encompasses both the Sixth and Seventh Police Districts. The number of homicides for both districts this year has dropped from last year. Violent crime in both districts has changed little from last year.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.