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30 students arrested after fight at Bay View Middle/High School

Oct. 18, 2012

Thirty students arrested, 28 disorderly conduct tickets issued, 22 squads on the scene with 29 officers - and one more black eye for Bay View Middle/High School.

A brawl involving students ranging in age from 11 to 19 sent the school into lockdown Thursday morning. Within hours, an alderman bluntly called the school unsafe, and other education officials expressed frustration that recent efforts to improve the school environment had taken a big hit.

"We want Bay View to be a great destination school," said Meagan Holman, a Milwaukee School Board member who represents the District 8 neighborhood. "And it gets so far set back by instances like this."

Police were still investigating late Thursday what caused the eruption, but early indications were that it involved a long-running student dispute.

There were calls, however, to rethink the school's safety policies.

"This school as it is now is not a safe school," Ald. Tony Zielinski said at a news conference Thursday outside the school at 2751 S. Lenox St. "We're going to work together to come up with an immediate plan to address the safety issue."

Holman, who called the news conference, didn't agree that the school is unsafe as a whole. But she voiced frustration at how the singular incident threatened to overshadow the efforts of a group of neighborhood parents who have been working with her and the administration for the past couple of years to turn around the school and create better ties between the community and students.

Neighbor Carol Voss said parents have called on the principal and superintendent to articulate a safety plan for the school.

"I hope we can use this as a call to arms," she said.

The fight Thursday was reported to police at 8:53 a.m., and it brought 22 squad cars and 29 officers to the school, according to Milwaukee police.

The arrests included eight people from ages 17 to 19 and 20 juveniles from 13 to 16, all of whom were ticketed for disorderly conduct. Two 11-year-olds were arrested at the high school, taken to Milwaukee Police District 6 and released to their parents, according to Milwaukee police.

Unofficial reports from school sources indicate the conflict may have started on the bus Thursday morning and spilled over into the cafeteria, where students gather before class to eat breakfast. Others indicated the violence stemmed from a long-running dispute.

Past troubles

This is the first code red for the school this year, but it has been in a period of upheaval.

The school was a high school until it merged with Fritsche Middle School to become a 6-12 program a couple of years ago. Holman said the school, which has about 1,500 students, has the second-highest percentage of students bused in from other neighborhoods of any school in the district.

Bay View was named one of the lowest-performing high schools by the state Department of Public Instruction, and that brought it extra federal tax money for turnaround efforts and a team of consultants to help with improvement. And leadership has turned over; last year's popular principal, Jesse Mazur, was replaced this year with Jonathan Leinfelder. The former regional boss for the school, Dennis Queen, was replaced this year by Cynthia Ellwood.

Meanwhile, Holman and a grass-roots network of parents have been meeting with the superintendent and the school's principals to discuss their vision for the school and to push for a more college-preparatory curriculum, which the district has said it will support.

The uphill battle with some neighbors has stemmed from things happening outside the school walls, such as reports that students are loitering in Humboldt Park during school hours. Other residents say they suspect vandalism at the Humboldt Park Pavilion is also the work of Bay View students.

Holman and others say part of the problem is that many students don't feel any particular allegiance to the neighborhood, which makes many residents feel less than collegial toward students.

"We want to make sure students understand they have a responsibility to be good citizens," said Denise Callaway, district spokeswoman.

She added that Milwaukee Public Schools is reviewing policies and procedures after the incident. Also, she said, the action of 30 disruptive students isn't representative of the whole student population.

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