GRETNA, La. – There have been 97 student arrests at Gretna Middle School in the current school year, a total that shocked some parents, but didn’t seem to surprise one student.
“Not really,” replied one student when asked if he felt safe on campus. His identity was being protected.
The student, who was given permission to speak by his parents, said there is a dangerous culture at the school.
“They just go into people’s classes and start doing gang-related stuff, jumping people in the yard, fights, alcohol, bringing drugs to school.”
The young man said one of the other students stabbed him on campus with a sharpened pencil. He said the student was later arrested--it was one of 63 arrests made this school year at Gretna Middle for violent offenses. Four arrests were made for drug possession, two for arson, two for sex crimes, and one for battery on an officer.
The campus has had up to two full-time officers on patrol and they have not been immune to the violence.
“We’ve had two officers go on disability, a third one was injured,” said Gretna Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana in addressing the Jefferson Parish School Board during a May 5th board meeting.
Board members debated cutting 6 campus officers in order to plug a $31 million budget shortfall. At the urging of Morgan, an officer was retained at Gretna Middle, while five other campus officers were eliminated for next school year.
The startling arrest record at the middle school contrasts with other west bank campuses where the Gretna Police patrol. There have been no arrests this year at Ruppel Middle or Gretna #2 Elementary and only one at Thomas Jefferson High.
Gretna Police believe some of the problems at the school may stem from having children pulled in from rival neighborhoods in Gretna, Harvey and Marrero.
“When these kids get together in the school environment, it’s cliqueish," said Gretna Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana. "It’s clannish and they stay together and quite naturally when you have different groups with different views and opinions, you have friction and that’s what’s happening in the school.”
Eyewitness News requested an interview with Gretna Middle School's principal, Edith Dozier, to find out what is being done to keep children safe and mitigate the crime problem at school. Through a representative in her office, she declined to comment and, instead, deffered to school board spokesperson Jeff Nowakowski.
In an e-mail to Eyewitness News, Nowakowski said Superintendent Diane Roussell was unavailable to give comment, but said he would provide a written statement. Nowakowski, however, never did.