Hampden merchants say students leaving the nearby Academy for College and Career Exploration after the school day are misbehaving, fighting and vandalizing property in the business community.
One merchant, Lesley Jennings, co-owner of doubledutch Boutique on Falls Road at The Avenue (West 36th Street), said she witnessed, photographed and videotaped students fighting across the strreet Thrsday, Nov. 17. Jennings also said she photographed a boy who kicked over planters outside her store that day for no reason.
She said she called out to a nearby police officer, who found the boy, brought him back to the store and told him to apologize. The boy refused, Jennings said. She said she photographed him and he was identified as an ACCE sixth-grader.
"I have been a merchant on Falls Road for over five years, and without a doubt this school year has been the absolute worst," Jennings wrote in an e-mail to Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association. The number of students that congregate at the intersection of 36th and Falls Road and walk the surrounding streets at dismissal time seems to have increased significantly, as has the yelling, fighting, littering, traffic disruption and general chaos, including several students entering local businesses with no intentions other than being threatening and disrespectful.
"This is simply unacceptable," Jennings wrote. "This is my livelihood. As a small business owner, this behavior creates an environment that is uncomfortable and inhospitable for my customers. The various schools in the 36th and Falls Road area need to take responsibility for their students after the final bell rings. Since the presence of teacher appears to have little effect, I suggest a daily Baltimore City School Police detail be assigned to the location."
Ray wrote in an e-mail to city and school officials, "This has been an ongoing problem this fall. We've asked for help, and it seems like the situation shows little signs of being resolved, and it's now at a point where this is concerning merchants about their businesses, many of whom have been here before these schools opened.
"We are about to enter the busy holiday season, which many of our area merchants depend on for the survival of their businesses," Ray wrote. "In a matter of days, we're going to be seeing increased traffic and visitors into our neighborhood. We can't have packs of children attacking and fighting each other as well as those who might try to intervene (as has happened in the past). As traffic congestion increases in the neighborhood, the danger to uncontrolled children who are running into the streets will pose an even greater hazard.
"This behavior from students has been having an adverse effect on our businesses, and if it continues into the holiday season, it will be disastrous."
Ray said the merchants group is "requesting that there be school police present daily through the holiday season every day when the schools let out to help monitor the situation. And beyond that, we need some sort of permanent solution to this problem," he wrote.
Ray's e-mail was sent to City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Northern District police commander Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper, among others.
Marshall Goodwin, chief of police for the Baltimore public school system, said in an e-mail to Ray that he and area public schools including ACCE are taking "proactive steps" to address the merchants' concerns. He said he recently, convened a meeting with student leaders and administrators to discuss the complaints, and that "the students agreed to work together to address these concerns and more importantly work together to communicate with their individual school's student population to eliminate the disruptive behavior that is being displayed in the community after school.
"Moving forward, I will have an officer stationed at 36th and Falls Road to monitor student activity during dismissal," Goodwin wrote. "We will work with Major Harper to ensure we work together to address your concerns."
Clarke said in her own e-mail to Goodwin, Tapp-Harper and others that she would assist in any way she can.
"Count on my support," she wrote.