Responding to teachers' fears about disruptive students and threats of violence, Baltimore school officials will close Frederick Douglass High School for two days to provide training on dealing with unruly youngsters.
The move marks the first time a city school will close so teachers can receive such training since Lombard Junior High closed for three days in 1975 after a spate of arsons and violent incidents.
The closing dates have yet to be determined.
"This is an extraordinary move -- no question about it -- but then these are extraordinary times, quite frankly," said Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who approved the move this week.
"I think we owe it to the school to try to do something. I'm really not happy with how it's going over there."
Details of the plan, including who will provide the training, have not been worked out.
The two days of meetings also are to include parents, representatives of the school system's central administration, the teachers union, school police, community leaders, clergy and a few students.
Officials from the school system and the Baltimore Teachers Union agreed that the situation at Douglass has degenerated to the point that meetings after regular school hours would not provide enough time to come up with an adequate response.
"It's either lose two days, or lose the rest of the year because things are not going to improve on their own," said Linda Prudente, a union spokeswoman. "Students want to learn, but they can't with so many disruptions."
The decision to close the school comes after several gun-possession arrests -- three involving students -- on school property and heightened fears after a brawl last month at a Mondawmin Mall parking lot across the street, minutes after school was dismissed.
Dr. Amprey and Ms. Prudente stressed that a small fraction of the school's estimated 1,300 students have caused the disruptions, while most follow the rules and want to learn.
"Enough students are causing disruptions for other students that it's creating an atmosphere of almost anarchy," Ms. Prudente said. "The teachers feel like they have no authority over them.
"The teachers can't go on like this. They're scared, they're apprehensive."
About 40 of Douglass' estimated 65 teachers attended an emergency meeting at the school last week, and all agreed to formally request that the school be closed for two days to try to devise strategies on coping with disruptions.
Some teachers routinely have had to stop their lessons 10 or 15 times during a single class period to deal with perennially disruptive students, Ms. Prudente said.
Numerous Douglass teachers have contacted the union about their fears, Ms. Prudente said.
At least three teachers have been the victims of assaults by students, and their injuries have been serious enough to cause them to miss days of school, the union said.
Some students also often openly defy teachers, curse at them and threaten physical violence against them, Ms. Prudente said.
One teacher, Ms. Prudente said, recalled a student telling her: 'I'm going to come back and kill you. You can't do anything to me.'
"These threats of physical violence are not isolated incidents,Ms. Prudente said.
"Everyone was in agreement that something severe had to be done."
Allay teachers' fears
Douglass Principal Shirley T. Hill said she was hopeful that the two days of training sessions would bring calm to the school and allay teachers' fears.
"It's a matter of our being able to work with the young people we're charged with working with," said Mrs. Hill, who began her career in the city schools as a teacher 30 years ago and has been principal at Douglass for three years.
"That's what we're about. But some of these kids seem less disciplined in some ways than students we have had previously."
As Douglass prepares for the training, teachers will be surveyed on disruptions and possible ways to cope with them, Mrs. Hill said.
A committee of teachers, parents, students and community leaders is working with Mary R. Nicholsonne, assistant superintendent for the northern area, to help plan the meetings, Mrs. Hill said.
Dr. Amprey said the school system will urge Douglass parents to ensure that their children do not show up at other schools during the two days off.
In response to concerns about security, school police last week boosted the number of officers patrolling the school at 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway from one to three.
The increased security will continue as long as necessary, said Bernard Stokes Jr., acting school police chief.
He added that city police also have stepped up patrols around the campus in response to concerns about drug dealing and accompanying violence in the surrounding West Baltimore neighborhoods.
Last month, about 125 people attended a meeting at Douglass on ways to keep violence from spilling over into the school after the Sept. 14 brawl at Mondawmin.
Scores of teen-agers -- members of rival neighborhood groups -- battled with steel poles, wood slabs and knives as the school day ended, leaving some youngsters covered with blood, bruises and makeshift bandages.
City police reported no gunfire but arrested four juveniles on handgun-possession charges. A 19-year-old suffered superficial wounds from a stabbing.
School officials and police said most of those fighting were not Douglass students, but at least two students were removed from school for their involvement.
After the brawl, many students and parents said that they feared violence inside the three-story brick school.