Violence persists at troubled Bartram High

A brawl in the cafeteria of Bartram High School was captured by a cellphone camera and posted on social media Tuesday. Several students exchanged punches while school police struggled to control the incident. Nine students were suspended, and two sustained minor injuries.
A brawl in the cafeteria of Bartram High School was captured by a cellphone camera and posted on social media Tuesday. Several students exchanged punches while school police struggled to control the incident. Nine students were suspended, and two sustained minor injuries.
Posted: April 05, 2014

Trouble persists at Bartram High.

A brawl erupted in the school cafeteria this week, with teenagers punching and stomping on one another and on school police. Students set off firecrackers inside the building. And the student who last month knocked a staffer unconscious was back in the halls of the Southwest Philadelphia school.

"It's normal for Bartram," said one teacher, insisting on anonymity. "It's our new normal."

Two weeks after "conflict resolution specialist" Alphonso Stevenson suffered a fractured skull and other injuries at the hands of a 17-year-old student, Philadelphia School District officials have sent a team to assess conditions inside the school, and added veteran troubleshooter Ozzie Wright as coprincipal. They have also reacted with dismay to what a spokesman called a "shocking" video of the cafeteria brawl.

Four additional Philadelphia and school police officers will be in place at the school by Monday, a district spokesman said. Police and school teams have assessed Bartram's building conditions and staff deployment plan. A community meeting is planned, and the district has reached out to city officials to get social-services help for students who need it.

"We want to show students that this is a place where you come in, you learn, and adults are here to help you, to take care of you," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

But it's going to be a long road, said science teacher Antoinette Calimag. Bartram has been a problem all school year, with more students, less staff, one principal removed less than two weeks into the school year, and rampant class-cutting, fights, smoking, and other student problems.

"You can't just snap your fingers and say, 'OK, it's school time now,' " said Calimag, Bartram's Philadelphia Federation of Teachers building representative. "We're so deep into the school year. What if we're just treading water until June?"

Staffers were shocked when they saw that the 17-year-old who assaulted Stephenson was back in the school this week, some said. The youth has been charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault, simple assault, and related offenses.

"He was cutting class, roaming the hallways," said a teacher, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "He spent two days in the building this week, and it seems the administration was not aware."

Teachers said the student spent at least part of one day in classes, even discussing the Stephenson assault with a friend. That fits a pattern, teachers said - administrators have had a difficult time removing problem students all year.

Gallard said the student who assaulted Stephenson initially reported to Bartram for a required conference before his transfer to a disciplinary school but was turned away because he did not bring his parents.

When the teen returned with his parents, he was allowed to remain, but only for the meeting, and he will not be allowed back, Gallard said.

Told of the teachers' accounts of the boy's presence in the building over two days, Gallard said: "That's not my understanding."

The larger problem at the 1,100-student school, those inside said, is the continued culture of chaos and disregard for authority.

On Tuesday, "firecrackers were lit off in the building, on two separate floors," Calimag said.

The lunchroom melee also happened Tuesday morning. As captured by a cell phone camera, with footage posted on social media, the fight appears serious - dozens gathered, with several students exchanging punches. A male school police officer attempts to separate the combatants as the room fills with screams.

In short order, a larger brawl erupts, mostly between female students. A female police officer attempts to break up one skirmish, then others. At one point in the video, that officer appears to fall to the floor.

Gallard said the fight was coded by school officials as a disorderly conduct and fighting. Nine students were suspended, and only minor injuries - one girl suffered a bump on the head, another scratches - were recorded.

"I guess people didn't think it was a big deal, because there was no blood, there were no serious injuries," said another teacher, who also fears retribution.

Gallard called it a "shocking" video.

"There is no reaction from the students - they just continue fighting as if this is a normal way to behave. It's shocking to see individuals behave this way, and to do it so brazenly in a school," said Gallard, adding that the school police officers showed bravery by jumping into the brawl to try to break it up and protect students.

"It's disturbing to see how helpless our staff feel," the district spokesman said after viewing the video.

The fight affirms the need for the actions the district is taking, Gallard said.

More officers will help, he said, "but we have to go beyond police officers. We've got to figure out a way to get these young people to care for others."

Teachers said that even with the attention given to Bartram after Stephenson's injury and an Inquirer story detailing conditions inside the school, deep dysfunction persists.

"It's unsettled," Calimag said. "There's just a sense of uneasiness."

The administration has begun attempting to crack down on students who come late to school, and those who ditch class or use cell phones, but many students, accustomed to having wide latitude in the building, aren't taking the adults seriously.

Thursday was a relatively calm day, staff said.

But even so, "there's always groups of students in the halls," a teacher said. "I constantly have to guard my door."


Community Meeting Next Week at School

A community meeting to address the climate at Bartram High and its surrounding neighborhoods has been scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will take place at the school, 2401 S. 67th St.


kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146215-854-5146  @newskag www.inquirer.com/

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