Saturday, April 15, 2006

School Of Escape?

One California principal has been learning recently that the best use of automotive grease may not be on his students:
Grease is the word and the controversy at Artesia High School.

Some students and parents have expressed dismay that Principal Sergio Garcia decided to grease the school fence during last week's walk-outs in an effort to deter students from leaving campus, according to officials with the ABC Unified School District. Grease also has been used to identify people climbing fences to enter school grounds.

The district believes that the principal acted within his scope of authority, but is re-evaluating the use of grease, said Deputy Superintendent Mary Sieu.

Thousands of students in area school districts including about 300 students at Artesia High School on March 27 skipped classes last week in protest of proposed federal legislation that would crack down on illegal immigration.

"I think that at that time, (Garcia) was trying to hold off any other students" from leaving the campus for unsafe areas, such as freeways, Sieu said.

Some parents and students at a meeting Tuesday of the ABC Board of Education voiced concerns about the decision, while others said they understood the school's reasoning, Sieu said.

Sylvia Gooden, a parent at the school, said that before last week, she had not heard of any school applying grease to fences. Gooden said that many students' hands and clothing were coated with grease.

"I just don't think it's appropriate," she said.

This is not the first time that the school has applied the truck wheel-bearing grease to fences, according to Kathy Frazier, ABC director of schools and the designated spokeswoman for the district. The grease appears to be clear on the fence, but becomes black when it comes into contact with clothing, she said.

The school decided to apply the grease after Artesia High School student Jajuan Jefferson was shot to death in Lakewood on March 11 by assailants chasing him in a car. During the resulting community tension, the school heard rumors that some unauthorized people were planning to come onto campus to stir up trouble, Sieu said.

The grease was applied the next week to a portion of the fence in order to identify any persons who attempted to jump the barrier, Frazier said. Those people also could leave fingerprints in the grease that law enforcement might inspect, Sieu said.

The grease application, which had been announced to students, helped the school identify four people outside trying to jump the fence to get onto campus, said Frazier.

"The (school) administration also decided to use the same tactic during the actual day of the walk-out," Sieu said.

On March 27, the majority of the protesting students scaled a part of the fence that the school had not greased during the previous application, Frazier said.

The next day, Garcia had custodians and student helpers apply the grease to a larger area of the fence, Frazier said. He did so because of the rain and because he feared that unauthorized people would enter campus, she added.

That same day, the school told students about the grease, and sent an automated voice message to parents' phones, she said. Fewer Artesia High School students skipped class March 28, and most of those who did so gathered at a park across the street before school started, Frazier said.

Frazier said the district has not confirmed any student injuries at the school as a result of the grease.
Regardless of what the school board may say in public, I would be willing to bet that the district superintendent may well be saying something altogether different to the principal behind closed doors.

Guessing, I would say that from this point forward, the grease will stay in the packaging and not on the fence.

Related: The local paper didn't like the "grease job," while Artesia high school teacher Dan Bronkhurst approves.
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