ENGLEWOOD — Englewood STEM High School leaders are adding safety officers and restricting access to the building after a fight broke out between a parent and students last week. Some parents, however, say school leaders are treating the school like a “jail.”
More than 70 Englewood parents and community members gathered Monday evening to discuss safety protocols for the school, 6835 S. Normal Blvd.
Four people, including a parent, started a physical altercation with three female students inside the building around 10:15 a.m. April 25, according to police and school leaders. The students who were attacked were 15 and 16, officials said.
Englewood STEM Principal Conrad Timbers-Ausar said the fight started after the parent came to the school to speak with a counselor.
The parent was grabbing paperwork from the main office and sprinted up the stairs “in a coordinated manner” to start the incident, Timbers-Ausar said. Because the fight happened during a bell period, around 800 students entered the halls during the incident. Security alerted staff and security on the upper floors and the incident was “quelled in under two minutes,” he said.
Atia Johnson, 37, Keyanna Taylor, 19, Freda Johnson, 19, and a 17-year-old girl were charged with misdemeanor battery and criminal trespassing, police said. It’s not clear how they are related but addresses provided by police show the elder and younger Johnson and Taylor all live on the same block.
Describing the situation as “unfortunate,” Timbers-Ausar said the school had no other choice than to boost protocols to protect students and staff and ensure that “everybody is safe and feels safe in the building.”
The school hired four new members to the “climate team,” including three safety officers, Timbers-Ausar said. All guests, including parents, now must make an appointment before they can enter the school, Timbers-Ausar said. In the case of an emergency, families have to call the main office before arrival. Parents must also swipe their IDs before they can enter the school, Timbers-Ausar said.
Timbers-Ausar said the pandemic “exacerbated a lot of the social ills” in the community, including violence. What is happening “outside of the building” spurred the April altercation, he said.
“We’re a school. This is a place of learning, and unfortunately, due to quite a few incidents involving parents this year and family members, we’ve had to make changes to how we do school,” Timbers-Ausar said.
Some parents said the new security measures are excessive and unnecessarily restrict parents’ access to their children. While a boost in security guards might be the best solution, locking parents out isn’t constructive, they said.
Joseph Williams, a parent and founder of Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club, said the new rules are “alarming.” The building is starting to feel less like a school, he said.
“It feels like it’s about to be a jail or something,” Williams said. “If I got to get to my baby, I want to be able to get to her when I have to get to her. I didn’t like the measures that were put in place. It’s more the parents facing the consequence, rather than the school stepping in and taking some ownership and putting some better things like maybe more security on the floors and things like that.”
Williams said the school needs more positive parent-student interaction in the school.
“There should probably be more measures inside the school put in place to protect our babies, whereas not so much blocking parents,” Williams said. “I think that’s something that we actually need more in schools — parent participation and getting parents involved.”
Sabrina Jackson said the school should be “an educational institution for kids.” Instead, both she and her son feel like they’re entering a prison whenever they go to the school, she said. Students should feel safe, not threatened, she said.
“When I drop by son off at 8 a.m. to you all, I put his safety, his life, in you all’s hand,” Jackson said. “When I pick him up at 3:40, I expect him the way that I brought him there to come back to me the same way.”
Parent Denise Dyer said one parent’s poor decision shouldn’t affect how all parents interact with their children during school hours. Instead, the school needs a boost in security guards doing their jobs, she said.
“For me, security is lacking. That shouldn’t have happened,” Dyer said. “I don’t know what you should do, but I personally think that maybe some of them should go back and be retrained on what to do…”
Michael Montagano, whose daughter was one of the students attacked during the fight, according to reports from NBC5, said he’s witnessed security officers “watching the food channel on the monitors” instead of keeping watch over students.
Parents already struggle to contact the principal or main office, Montagano said. A system where parents have to make an appointment to enter the school or contact the main office in an emergency isn’t feasible, he said.
“This is not going to work,” Montagano said.
More parent feedback will be welcomed in the days ahead, Timbers-Ausar said. For now, the goal is to create a safe, stable environment at the school.
“We want to have a place where students can come, they can learn, they can feel safe and we have to put those measures in place,” Timbers-Ausar. “Unfortunately, we have people in our society that take advantage of situations and this is a situation like that.”
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