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Children, parents praise safety efforts in city schools After jury faults system, forum lauds changes


Teachers, administrators, parents and students touted last night what they described as recent improvements in safety in Baltimore City public schools.

Their remarks came at a community forum at Harford Heights Elementary School in East Baltimore called by the school board and Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

The forum, attended by about 125 people, was held two weeks after a grand jury faulted the school system's "piecemeal" approach to curbing crime. The panel said the system has failed to reduce the growing problem of student violence.

But last night, all the stories sounded positive. Speakers from various schools told officials that their safety initiatives were making a difference.

Rena Myers, a parent liaison worker at Charles Carroll, Barrister Elementary School in Pigtown in Southwest Baltimore, said syringes littered the school playground until parent volunteers started cleaning the debris every school day. She said four volunteers show up at 7:30 a.m. before school starts and four more come three hours later because the grounds usually are littered again.

"There weren't any drug needles when children came to school," Mrs. Myers said proudly.

Peggy Butler, a tutor at the school, has three children there -- in pre-kindergarten and first and second grades. She said she's felt more comfortable since the daily cleanups.

"I feel a whole lot better because a lot of times our children don't know what something is, and they will pick it up," she said.

Elizabeth Turner, principal at Tench-Tilghmann Elementary School in East Baltimore, said students have taken a safety pledge and the school has a crisis-intervention center to deal with conflicts. "The purpose of our program is to teach children to avoid guns, resolve conflict in nonviolent ways," Ms. Turner said.

Police officers will be assigned to Pimlico Middle School in Northwest Baltimore to teach anti-gun classes and participate in school and community safety programs.

But Pimlico principal Roy Pope put a positive spin on his school's efforts. He said a recent policy encouraging students to wear uniforms has helped improve their attitudes.

"Over 95 percent of our students are in uniform," he told the board. "It's made a difference in our school."

One of his students, Hagar Pleasant-Bey, 13, agreed.

"My school is much safer now than when we didn't have uniforms," said Hagar. "We don't have as many fights Our focus is on achievement, and that is where it should have been all along."

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