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City Council questions safety in Baltimore schools at hearing; CEO touts district’s improvements – Baltimore Sun | #schoolsaftey


Members of the Baltimore City Council questioned education officials for two and a half hours at a Wednesday hearing about school safety, prompting a passionate defense from the school district’s top leader.

Councilmembers pressed Sonja Santelises, CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System; school police; and Department of Juvenile Services officials on how they address school safety, integrate formerly incarcerated students back into school and handle bullying and violence.

Bullying incidents have increased over the past three years, according to district data presented at the hearing. Baltimore saw the highest rate of young homicide and shooting victims last year than any other in the past decade. Several shootings occurred on or near school grounds.

Toward the end of the hearing, Councilmember Antonio Glover asked Santelises to give herself a letter grade for her and the district’s achievements.

“Is it a perfect city? Is it a perfect school system? Are there not issues? Absolutely, there are. But I stand by that record,” Santelises said. “I will never have the A until every single child in this whole system is able to fully actualize their potential.”

Santelises said in her 15 years working in Baltimore, eight of which leading the district, the number of Black and brown students taking Advanced Placement math classes has increased. Children of color are also reading at grade level at a higher rate compared to other Maryland school districts, she said, and chronic absenteeism rates are declining, despite a national increasing trend.

“We now have young people in Freddie Gray‘s neighborhood who know how to play a violin and who can take algebra in middle school,” Santelises said. “Because when I came, none of that was there.”

Critics of Baltimore public schools often blame Santelises for longstanding issues like the city’s low math scores on statewide tests and chronically dilapidated school buildings. Fewer than 10 schools lack air conditioning, a number that will hit zero in a year, she said.

“I walk the streets of this city. Not everybody likes me, and frankly, I’m not here to be liked,” she said as applause filled the room. “Fortunately, I have a family that loves me and a God that loves me.”

Councilmember James Torrence asked education officials to fulfill 10 committee requests by April to address “system failures” in city schools and the city schools police department. Among the requests was to review suspension policies and training policies for “student support wholeness teams,” which provide social and emotional learning. There were 166 suspensions, both in school and out of school, last academic year.

“This is about accountability,” Torrence said.

Councilmember Robert Stokes, the chair of the education, workforce and youth committee, emphasized that kids are bringing loaded guns to school and called for school police to have more authority to discipline students.

“Stop handicapping school police,” Stokes said. He claimed that 15 guns are found in schools daily.

“Kids are bringing loaded guns to school, and you wonder why parents say, ‘My kid’s not safe in school,’” Stokes said.

Several parent and student speakers told the council they were afraid to go to school or send their children, and they shared accounts of kids getting robbed or assaulted after class. Others were concerned about what schools and environments at-risk youth are placed in.

Council President Nick Mosby organized the hearing but was not in attendance. He was in court for the mortgage fraud trial of his ex-wife, Marilyn Mosby, in which he is testifying.



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