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Baltimore schools to reopen Wednesday after riots

Baltimore schools will resume classes Wednesday after riots in the city that began with high school students confronting police officers.

While schools CEO Gregory Thornton called the mayhem and looting "traumatic," he also said events since the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody this month represented a "call to action" for young people who feel disenfranchised.

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Thornton called the behavior of some Frederick Douglass High School students, who led the first confrontations with police, "inexcusable." He said students could face disciplinary action or criminal charges in the riots.

But as he watched tapes of his students hurling bricks and objects at police, he said he also saw pain.

Thornton said there's a disparity in resources and opportunities afforded to city students, such as recreation and school facilities, compared with their suburban counterparts.

"These are things kids have all across America, but when they look at their communities, it's not afforded to them," Thornton said. "Many of our kids feel that as a community we have not served them well."

He described Monday's events as "a call to action to us adults to provide what they need."

On Tuesday, city children were invited to the Empowerment Temple, where a panel of educators and clergy talked to them about the violence, the aftermath and the case of Gray, the 25-year-old who died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury.

De-Sharn Yewitt, a ninth-grader at the Academy for College and Career Exploration, said the riots represented a tipping point.

"It's like a boiling pot, and Freddie Gray was like the last drop of water," Yewitt said. "It tipped over and young people felt it."

Red Emma's Bookstore offered free meals to students and delivered them to recreation centers. About a dozen churches and other organizations throughout the city offered meals to neighbors and children.

More than 50 educators affiliated with Teach for America — a national corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in urban areas — helped prepare meals at Bethel AME Church in the Upton neighborhood.

Joshua Michael, who teaches seventh-grade math at Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle School, was among them. He said he also helped clean up debris Tuesday.

"We are here for our kids," Michael said. "That's what we do. People want to get out [into the community], because they love this city."

One Baltimore teacher said that when classes start, she's prepared to be a listener first and a teacher second.

Students "are going to come with questions and whatever opinions they have developed," said Jerae Kelly, who teaches grades six through eight at the Academy for College and Career Exploration. "It is our job ... to be facilitators and allow them to channel the rage and anger and to show them a way other than violence."

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Her students come from Sandtown and have experienced Gray's death as a personal loss, she said. Gray was arrested near Gilmor Homes in the area.

But they come, too, from many of the neighborhoods that experienced rioting.

Student rage, she said, stems from living with poverty, depravity and injustice. Kelly said students often feel their voices aren't heard, so it's important to listen to their views.

Thornton said the district will deploy additional social workers and school psychologists Wednesday, and he plans to visit Gilmor Elementary and Frederick Douglass High.

He said in the coming days, he hopes the city does not remember only the students they saw wreaking havoc.

"I'm hopeful that the community can see further than those who didn't do the right thing — to the 84,000 kids who went to school and did what they were supposed to," Thornton said.

Suburban schools also confronted the issues. On Monday at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Principal Kirk A. Sykes allowed students to stage a protest in the school foyer. Student poets spoke words of fear and anger. After 15 minutes, the teens returned to classrooms.

"Children who lack hope — that is the challenge for us," said Sykes, a former city high school principal. "The civil rights movement of the 21st century is saving the children. It is the toughest thing we will have to face."

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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