Because of a string of violent incidents at Baltimore public schools – shootings, fires in classrooms, fights broken up by school officers firing pepper spray into combatants’ faces – students worry that they might find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Baltimore Sun reports. “Do I feel safe in the school? No,” says Alicia Lee, an 11th-grader at Reginald F. Lewis High School of Business and Law. “Anything can happen.” Across the system, such incidents are becoming more frequent than just a year ago. Mayor Martin O’Malley conceded in a private e-mail to his police commissioner this fall that schools are “out of control.”
Parents, school officials, and experts blame the violence on the dilapidated condition of city school buildings, as well as recent budget cuts to staff, resources, and security personnel. The latest statistics for this academic year show that the number of serious incidents reported at all city schools during the months of September and October rose 40 percent over the same period last year. Topping the list were fires and false alarms, which more than tripled from 21 in fall last year to 68 this year. Assaults jumped almost 23 percent, from 127 incidents last year to 156 this year. It’s making the troubled facilities – where water fountains are draped with plastic and guarded with “Do Not Drink” signs, and where on some days heat and electricity are almost luxuries – even more unsettling. “We know that deteriorating school conditions are linked with more violent activity in schools,” said William Lassiter of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence, in Raleigh, N.C.