The teachers union has long asserted that city school administrators aren't reporting violent incidents or doing enough to punish children who are violent, for fear their schools will be labeled "persistently dangerous" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Maryland defines a persistently dangerous school as one with a certain percentage of its student population suspended for violent offenses. Critics say that that discourages suspensions and makes violence worse because students see they can get away with it.

Social networking sites like MySpace and the video-sharing site YouTube, along with the prevalence of cell phones with video cameras, have made school violence and other inappropriate behavior easier to document.

YouTube contains footage of boys fighting in the bathroom at Thurgood Marshall High and students at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High trying to throw a girl out of a window.

Berry said one of her friends found the video of her assault on MySpace, and her union representatives urged her to bring it to the news media's attention.

Since becoming CEO of the city schools last summer, Alonso has encouraged principals to look at alternatives to suspension for nonviolent offenses, but urged zero tolerance for violence.

Some educators say his directive has been misinterpreted, with principals discouraging all suspensions. Alonso has said he will fire any administrator who does not honestly report school violence.

Reginald F. Lewis High is one of the smaller schools created by the breakup of the large, chaotic Northern High School in 2002. Last summer, the state put Lewis on probation for its high number of suspensions for violent incidents. If the rate of suspensions keeps up this year, the school will be labeled persistently dangerous.

Another school located in the same complex, W.E.B DuBois High School, already has the persistently dangerous designation, meaning it must offer students the option to transfer elsewhere.

At a school board meeting last month, English complained to Alonso and the board about teacher assaults. "You will not have good test scores ... as long as these students are allowed to run the halls, come back to the classroom and continue to act in a violent way," she said.

She asked for a meeting to discuss "strategies to help students who need some kind of support because obviously they're crying out for help," a request that led to the formation of the task force.

Alonso responded that night that he'd be happy to meet with English and anyone else about school violence, but he said he wanted specifics about incidents that are not being reported, not generalized allegations.

"The message that I have made very clear to principals is that ... any student who commits the kind of offense that leads to persistently dangerous status by law has to be part of a process which takes them out of a school.

"If that is not happening, then the law is not being followed in the school, and I need to intervene. ... If you have specifics, bring them to my attention. I will respond immediately. I would rather deal with specifics than with the notion that the kids are running wild, because that's not helpful."

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com