Renaissance Academy welcomes students, holds community meeting in wake of classroom stabbing

Renaissance Academy students return after classroom stabbing.

Students returned to Renaissance Academy High School on Monday, almost one week after police said one of their classmates nearly stabbed another to death in one of the West Baltimore school's classrooms.

City school officials said crisis support teams, mental health counselors and members of the anti-violence group Safe Streets were on hand to welcome students back to a day of classes that included a town hall meeting and small-group conversations about the incident.

The school system also held a community meeting Monday night at Douglas Memorial Church, across the street from the school. Those in attendance asked city schools CEO Gregory Thornton and Renaissance Principal Nikkia Rowe about added security, after-school activities and the district's commitment to keeping the school open.

"I don't know what the future holds for our city, but I know what we hold: We hold the hearts of our kids," Thornton said. "At the end of the day, we're all in. We're going to do everything we can to ensure the safety of the kids in our community."

The school had been closed since the stabbing last Tuesday.

"Our goal was to provide as much of a normal day to our students, and make sure they were supported and felt nurtured and cared for once they returned to school," Karl Perry, chief of school support for the school system, said Monday.

Perry said students also were worried about their two 17-year-old schoolmates involved in the incident.

Donte Crawford was arrested and charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder and several assault and weapons charges related to the stabbing. Crawford was held without bond last week. An attorney listed for him in court records was not immediately available for comment.

The 17-year-old victim, Ananias Jolley, remained in critical condition, a Baltimore police spokesman said Monday. The spokesman said there were no other updates, and the case remains under investigation.

Students and staff were greeted to a "welcoming environment," Perry said, but the gravity of what transpired — the stabbed student collapsed in front of several of his peers and teachers, and fights ensued afterward — did not escape them.

"They were concerned, they were upset, because this is their school," Perry said. "They didn't want their school cast into a negative light."

Baltimore city school police Chief Marshall T. Goodwin said that students had undergone "safety checks" Monday morning that included being examined by hand-held metal detectors. The devices were used on the day of the stabbing, and will continue to be used the rest of the year, he said.

A school police officer will remain on rotation in the area of Renaissance, which shares a building with a middle school, with special attention on the school, Goodwin said.

Renaissance had an officer stationed in the school until this fall, when city school police were removed from assignments in more than 70 buildings because they were not allowed to carry their weapons inside.

Renaissance has had a tumultuous month, having been slated for closure at the end of the year. Amid community outcry, officials reversed that decision, though Thornton said after the stabbing he might reconsider.

One week before the Nov. 24 stabbing, a student also was found with a loaded gun at the school.

Perry said school officials are not focusing on whether Renaissance will close, but rather on how to support students the rest of the school year.

Perry also maintained that "Renaissance is doing some great things for children."

The school has been lauded in recent months for helping its student population — many of them young black males from underprivileged backgrounds — cope with everything from the riots that gripped the city in the spring to the day-to-day realities of living in impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Both Crawford and Jolley were part of a mentoring program geared toward changing the lives of troubled youths.

Mentors and others who knew them described them as friends who would fight one day and make up the next.

The school also has a partnership with the University of Maryland School of Social Work, which has provided support staff and secured a $750,000 grant to help expand its programming.

Officials said they don't know what further help will be needed this week at the school, which serves more than 300 students.

"We're going to take it one day at a time," Perry said. "It depends on how our students are reacting."

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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