Just before the doors to Roland Park Elementary/Middle School opened today, students and parents offered many and varied thoughts about what was behind the shooting of a school police officer.
A few students said fights, harrassment of youngster pupils and other violence occur too often. Some suggested that school authorities should take stronger measures, including using metal detectors to screen students for weapons.
Other students and a number of parents agreed that stronger supervision was needed, including more patrolling of hallways by teachers or others. But they insisted that using metal detectors or arming school police officers would be overreacting.
Officer James Kelly, 39, a 15-year veteran, was shot in the stomach yesterday by a student recently transferred to Roland Park after disciplinary problems at another school, officials said.
Officer Kelly, assigned to the north Baltimore school just three months ago from Lombard Middle School, was listed in serious but stable condition today at the Maryland Shock-Trauma Center.
Peter Adams, 14, of the 600 block of McCabe Ave., was charged as an adult with attempted murder and handgun violations, police said. Three other youths were detained for questioning but not charged.
The youth was being held without bail today at the Northern District lockup. A bail review hearing is set for tomorrow at the Wabash District Court.
Before the doors opened for classes today, students and parents at Roland Park said the hoped the shooting would not result in an indictment of the school.
"You don't punish the whole school for one child's actions," said one sixth grader who didn't want her name used.
Violence can occur at any school, regardless of where it is, she said, pointing to the private Roland Park Country School across Roland Avenue.
"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," she said.
Until recently, Principal Evelyn T. Beasley said, "We've never even had to have a security officer . . . My kids have helped me keep this school safe."
She feared the shooting would overshadow academic achievements that don't make headlines, like a group of middle school students who won first place last weekend in a statewide math contest.
The school "is not perfect," said Gary Wilson, a parent with two sons at Roland Park. "But it's not an animal house," he said.
Violence, if it occurs, is only made worse by overcrowding and the school system's practice of sending troublesome kids to Roland Park, Mr. Wilson and other parents said.
"I hope that if any good can come out of this," Mr. Wilson said, "it's that the school system can find some new solutions to some old problems."
The shooting prompted Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to say last night that "alternative, more regimented" ways to deal with school discipline cases must be found. Currently, problem students are shuffled between schools, said the mayor, whose 11-year-old daughter, Katherine, attends Roland Park.
"We've got to consider ways of putting some students in a more regimented, non-public setting," Mayor Schmoke said.
School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey called the shooting a "setback" for the school system and expressed surprise it had occurred at Roland Park, which is considered one of the city's safest and best schools.
Some students said yesterday's shooting was a sign of an increasingly violent society and that parents need to be stricter.
"It's everyone's fault for the environment around us," said Tonisha Williams, 11, a fifth grader.
Robert Balzano, a school police administrator, said, "This wasn't an isolated incident. We do have guns in the schools; it's a reality."
Mr. Balzano said Officer Kelly was an "excellent man who's pretty smart about how to handle himself amid problems in any school."
Parents said they were sticking by the school and its administrators, including Mrs. Beasley.
Gretchen Willging, whose son, Karl Papadantonakis, attends eighth grade at Roland Park, said her son was scared, "like the other kids."
Still, she said, "People are very supportive of this school. . . . My son had gotten a wonderful education here."
Parents praised the school's academic program, saying it offered more work with computers, Japanese, German and other languages beginning in kindergarten, and other advanced programs.
"Generally, it's not a violent place," said Paulette McFaul. Her sons Lauren, 12, and Coby, 13, attend the school.
"I'm trying to be reasonable and rational about it," Mrs. McFaul said. "There's always been a commitment to excellence since Mrs. Beasley took over" about 15 years ago.
"She has given it character and depth," Mrs. McFaul said. "She has given it a soul."
But, Mrs. McFaul said, Mrs. Beasley and other administrators are struggling with a seriously over-crowded school. The school has about 400 more students than it was designed to hold, she said.
"They need to limit the number of kids who come here," Mrs. McFaul said. She also said the staff should do a better job of patrolling the halls.
And school system's practice of sending troublesome kids from other areas to the Roland Park schools has worsened the problems, Mrs. McFaul said. Mrs. Beasley and other officials at the school need more say in what students they will accept.
"We have to take any kid that the central administration sends us," Mrs. McFaul said.
Roland Park draws students from across the city. It has an enrollment of about 1,800 students.
Crowding, as well as the recent influx of disciplinary cases transferred to Roland Park from other schools, has been a nagging concern of parents and teachers, said Meg McFadden, executive vice president of the Roland Park Parent Teacher Student Association.
"A lot of these kids end up bouncing around from school to school, and their problems aren't addressed," said Ms. McFadden. She said said many disciplinary cases are sent to Roland Park because of the school's strong reputation.
The shooting occurred shortly before 3 p.m. when the school principal, vice principal and the officer took two students into the school police office to "counsel" them after an argument, Larry Burgan, head of the city school police, said.
The principal, vice principal and one of the youths then left the office. While in the office with the other youth, Officer Kelly and the boy got into a struggle, Mr. Burgan said.
During the struggle, the officer was shot once in the stomach with a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun, Mr. Burgan said.
The wounded officer called for help, and a maintenance man helped the officer subdue and handcuff the youth. The handgun was recovered at the scene.
Only one shot was fired, and no other injuries were reported.
The two boys had scuffled last week, but school officials thought the youths had resolved their differences. They are unsure what caused the dispute to flare up.
Dr. Amprey said both boys were transfer students with a history of violence and fights in schools.
A crisis team was going to the school today if any students need counseling, Dr. Amprey said.
The superintendent said that unless youths' values change, "you probably will see a recurrence of this kind of thing."
Yesterday's shooting was the second since September in a city school. In the earlier incident, a Hamilton Middle School student shot himself in the foot.