Villaraigosa targets school violence after rash of student brawls
By Jeremiah Marquez
12:11 a.m. May 28, 2005
LOS ANGELES – Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa appeared at an inner-city high school after yet another student brawl and promised to make wiping out racial violence in the nation's second-largest school district a top priority.
The visit to Jefferson High School on Friday was a chance for Villaraigosa to focus on two campaign pledges: fixing the city's failing schools and bridging racial divides. Villaraigosa united black and Hispanic voters last week to become the city's first Latino mayor in a century.
"There's going to be a zero tolerance for this kind of racial violence," Villaraigosa said after meeting with students, teachers, school officials and community leaders. "We need to get control of the situation."
The mayor-elect, who takes office July 1, acknowledged that he will have no direct control over the city's public schools.
He said, however, that he plans to have city officials improve after-school and weekend programs at a nearby park, send crisis counselors to Jefferson and work with police to clean up the gang-scarred area surrounding the South Los Angeles campus.
Thursday's melee, which involved several dozen black and Hispanic teens, was the third racially motivated brawl on campus in six weeks. There were no major injuries, though 22 students were suspended, officials said.
School police used pepper spray and batons to quell the fight.
To boost security, authorities said they would increase the number of school police officers assigned to the campus from two to five and expand area patrols to ensure students were safe traveling to and from campus.
Officials are investigating what sparked the fights at Jefferson and elsewhere, including two scuffles at Los Angeles High School, but they said it was likely that off-campus gang activity and other problems were spilling into the classroom.
Race could also be a factor
in a district where 73 percent of the 746,000 students are Latino, 13 percent are black and the remainder are Asian, white or other ethnicity. At Grant High School in the San Fernando Valley, fights broke out between Hispanic and Armenian students earlier this year.
"All of these have racial overtones," said school Police Chief Alan Kerstein, who added that school unrest seemed to be on the rise in recent years.
In the last academic year, 141 students were expelled for reasons related to on-campus assaults and violence, up from 40 during the 2000-2001 school year, according to school data.
"We're not going to tolerate it," Kerstein said. "If you're fighting, this isn't the school for you. If we run out schools, this isn't the district for you."
At Jefferson, parents and students said they were skittish about returning to campus.
Travon Taylor, 15, said he wants to transfer schools after several students tried to punch him in Thursday's clash.
"Everybody says don't be around trouble," he said, "but trouble came to me."
Find this article at:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/stat ... rawls.html