Officials Provide Details on Violence Near Kennedy High to Show Need for Security Fence
Thursday, September 6, 2012 • 10:33am
PATERSON, NJ – There were 10 criminal assaults on students near the Kennedy High School campus during the 2011-12 academic year, according to city education officials. In addition, four people were arrested on weapons possession charges. Other crimes near the school campus in which students were victims included robbery, stalking, terroristic threats and use of a BB gun, officials said.
In one incident, a group of young men with machetes drove a van onto the school grounds, according to Amod Field, Kennedy’s operations principal. Some students dove out of the way of the fast-moving van, Field said. Others became hysterical.
“We were very lucky in that situation that none of our students were harmed,’’ said Field.
Paterson Public Schools officials provided the Board of Education with that information in a presentation at Wednesday night’s workshop meeting in an effort to explain the need for the new security fence being built around the school.
“If you feel that’s what’s needed, put up three fences if you have to,’’ said school board member Wendy Guzman.
“The crime in this city is out of control,’’ said another board member, Corey Teague. “We can’t play around. Everything you can do to make sure our children are safe, do what you got to do.’’
But not all the board members embraced the security fence. Schools Commissioner Jonathan Hodges said the fence wouldn’t prevent violence, but only relocate it. “Whatever transpires, we’re shifting it across the street,’’ said Hodges. “We haven’t corrected anything. We’ve just shifted it a little bit.’’
School board member Errol Kerr questioned the validity of the crime statistics provided by the security staff. He pointed out that the numbers were higher than what’s been tabulated in recent annual reports compiled by district officials.
Kerr also criticized the way state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans has handled the fence issue by moving ahead with the construction without seeking approval from the school board. “This is not the right way to do business,’’ Kerr said.
Hodges asked Evans how much the fence would cost and who was doing the work. The superintendent could not provide those answers on Wednesday night and promised to get the information to Hodges by Monday.
The construction of the fence has drawn criticism from some Patersonians who say it would make the Kennedy complex look like “an institution.’’ Municipal law department officials are checking whether the city council has any say in the fence construction through possible deed restrictions from when the city provided the land for the new high school in the 1960s. So far, city lawyers have not found any such restrictions, said Paterson Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman
Wednesday’s PowerPoint presentation by Field and the school district’s security director, James Smith, seemed designed to rebut some of the criticisms of the fence. For example, Smith said most city schools already had fences around them. Also, Field said, some of America’s most prestigious colleges, including Harvard, Princeton and Brown, had fences around their campuses.
Evans told the board that security became a “major concern” at Kennedy, partly because layoffs forced the city police department to discontinue its “Safe Corridors” program that provided officers outside certain Paterson schools at dismissal time.
In addition to building the fence, the school district has installed extra security cameras at Kennedy “covering every inch” outside and inside the school, said Smith.