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City senator blasts Baltimore schools leadership after slapping incident

A Baltimore City schools police officer is shown in a cellphone video slapping a young man Tuesday at REACH Partnership School in East Baltimore.

A Baltimore state senator is calling for city schools CEO Gregory Thornton to resign immediately or be fired after a school police officer was caught on video this week slapping and kicking a student.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson called it "unacceptable" that the school system couldn't immediately say whether the youth in the video is enrolled at the school.

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"The students and the amazing school communities in Baltimore deserve better than what we have today," Ferguson said Friday on the Senate floor. "I know for a fact that with the right leadership, we can be in a much, much better place, but it won't happen until we make a change."

The school system acknowledged for the first time Friday that the 16-year-old who was slapped and kicked Tuesday afternoon — an incident captured on a video posted to Facebook — is "believed to be a student on the school's roster."

School officials had initially said that the youth, who has not been identified, was not a student at REACH Partnership School in Clifton Park and had been identified as an "intruder" by the officers seen in the video. The youth's attorney, Lauren Geisser, told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that he is on the school's rolls.

In its statement Friday, the school system said an investigator assigned to identify the teen in the video was able to do so with the help of news media coverage. The teen and his parents are now "scheduled for an interview," the school system said.

"We remain committed to handling this matter with the highest priority," the statement said.

City police have launched a criminal investigation into the events captured on the video.

Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, had previously joined other legislators, faith leaders and education advocates in criticizing Thornton's leadership of city schools. He said Friday that the confusion over the student's enrollment status was the last straw.

"City Schools leadership publicly came out on Wednesday and said this student was not enrolled at the school, now we learn they were wrong and young man was on the rolls for REACH," he wrote on Facebook. "This is beyond unbelievable. The Board must act today. The City Schools leadership no longer has any grasp on the district. This craziness must stop now."

He later suggested on Twitter that the school system had lied about the student's status. "The @BaltCitySchools CEO should resign today. It's unacceptable to lie to public about enrollment status to mitigate school police action," he said.

School officials did not respond to a request to respond to Ferguson's comments.

Marnell Cooper, the president of the school board, has expressed support for Thornton, whose four-year contract runs through June 2018. Supporters say he has made operations more efficient and reduced costs.

Del. Curt Anderson, who leads the city's House delegation to Annapolis, said Friday that he, too, is frustrated with Thornton. But he stopped short of calling for his resignation.

"The bottom line is that we still have 80,000 kids to educate in Baltimore City, and if you keep changing directions every couple years, you're almost like starting over," said Anderson, a Democrat. "I know what Dr. Thornton's shortcomings are, but I also know his strengths. I'd rather build on that than call for his resignation."

Anthony C. Spence, the officer seen slapping the teen in the video, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the criminal investigation and a separate administrative investigation into the matter. A second officer seen in the video watching the altercation has also been placed on paid administrative leave, as has School Police Chief Marshall Goodwin.

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School officials have declined to explain Goodwin's leave, calling it a personnel matter.

Anderson said Thornton was correct to put the schools police chief and the officers involved on leave during the investigation.

Mike Davey, an attorney for Spence, said the 44-year-old officer was responding to a call for a vehicle parked illegally in the school's loading dock when he spotted the teen and another youth inside the school and not in uniform. They told Spence they were students but couldn't identify the principal, Davey said. He said Spence believed they were trespassing and asked them to leave.

One youth did leave, but the 16-year-old did not. An altercation occurred before Spence and the youth both exited the building, where the video was shot, Davey said. He declined to elaborate.

twitter.com/rectorsun

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