I-Team Report: Learning the Hard Way

April 28, 2011 4:49:16 AM PDT
So far this year, 20 Chicago Public Schools students have been killed and more than 150 wounded, mostly in gang violence that has some CPS officials pleading for better protection in vivid internal e-mails.

Confidential memos from school security personnel and top administrators of the Chicago Public Schools reveal deep concerns about what they see as unchecked gang violence around a West Side campus where three high schools have been combined.

A forecast of additional trouble looms as Chicago school officials consider consolidating more schools to save money bringing rival gangs under the same roof, all to be dismissed at the same time.

Every day across Chicago, dismissal time is the most dangerous moment for public school students, according to administrators and security officials.

It is an especially dangerous time at the Austin campus where three high schools were consolidated the past few years and now occupy different floors of the building, each with their own street gang say security officers and administrators.

Internal emails between some officials the past month reveal a high level of fear.

On April 4, Austin Campus security chief Leval Horton cited an incident just before dismissal; a gang fight erupted in a third floor stairwell. "The Austin campus safety and security team is understaffed," he wrote.

On April 13, Horton noted that additional security was needed but that he was told it is unavailable.

The same day he emailed his superiors about a teenager on a bicycle who pointed a gun at rival gang members and again Leval stated, "the need for additional security is desperately needed as the gang issue plaguing the community is getting worse. Please reconsider your decision to not add additional security at Austin."

And it isn't just the West Side.

A 14-year-old boy is under arrest and charged with attempted murder after police say he opened fire outside Cook Elementary School on the South Side.

"They was just getting right out of school, and it just happened that quick," said Mojia Mitchell, Cook school parent.

A 12-year-old shot in the back during the attack Tuesday is in stable condition. He is one of 159 student gunshot victims so far this school year in Chicago. Twenty students have been killed.

The board of education approved a plan Wednesday to consolidate several elementary, middle and high schools which some parents say will cause more gang violence.

"Combining four schools with close to 200 students each representing different gang members is a recipe for disaster," said Robert Garcia, parent.

At the Austin Campus, with three high schools in one place, confidential emails from Principal Todd Yarch to top CPS officials spell it out.

Gang issues are "beyond our control," Yarch writes. He describes violence "outside or in stairwells after dismissal"; three fire alarms pulled in one week to get our students outside in order to start a 'gang brawl'."

"Something more serious is inevitable," he states. "There is just not enough security or police to make things safe in the Austin community."

No one from the schools or the police would appear on camera.

Written statements from both stressed the importance of sharing information to head off conflicts and provide for adequate patrols.

The Chicago Police Department statement notes that intelligence is analyzed daily and that police officials adjust patrol deployment as appropriate.

CPD Statement Regarding Austin Campus

The Chicago Police Department works very closely with Chicago Public Schools to address safety concerns for students. As part of our overall strategy to ensure student safety, District Commanders and school administrators are in regular contact to share information relative to brewing conflicts or other issues. This information and other intelligence is analyzed daily, and our deployment strategy is adjusted as appropriate. Providing adequate resources to keep students safe is a top priority for the Chicago Police Department.

Statement By Chicago Public Schools On Austin Campus

Chicago Public Schools work closely with the Chicago Police Department and the Office of Safety and Security on a daily basis to ensure the safety and security of students. School administrators are encouraged to share intelligence with Chicago Police, to prevent any disruptions inside and outside of the school community, particularly at dismissal times, when hundreds of students are heading home from school.

Our principals are the ears and eyes of our school communities and we rely on our school leadership to share intelligence and inform law enforcement about the challenges they face and the need for additional police resources.