More than a week after security personnel retrieved a gun and knife during separate incidents at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest, questions remain about how such oversights could have happened on a campus known more for it scholastic and athletic achievements than instances of violence.
Despite concerns about safety and the increased presence of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers on the premises, the Tenleytown-based school has maintained some normalcy. Some students have taken the changes lightly, saying they hope to move on with their lives.
“It really surprised me. There are [small] fights once every two months at this school,” Joseph Hernandez, a 12th grader at Wilson who asked his name be changed, told AllEyesOnDC. Hernandez, a transfer from what he described as a violent D.C. high school located east of Rock Creek Park, said those who allegedly possessed the weapons most likely walked through one of more than 50 unsecured side doors.
“Things are pretty strict these days. Police officers stand by all of the doors and make us take off our jackets [and other articles of clothing] when we enter the school. The teachers haven’t been talking too much about it. Honestly, I think it’s done,” Hernandez, a Northwest resident, said.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 1, officers arrested a student after a teacher discovered a semiautomatic handgun in their book bag, school and D.C. Public School (DCPS) officials said. Less than an hour later, a fight erupted outside. One of two juveniles detained had a knife. Representatives said that before this month, a weapon hadn’t been found inside a D.C. school building in more than a decade.
As of press time, an MPD investigation is still underway. Officers said it’s unclear whether the fight was related to the student with the gun.
On the day of the incident, the metal detectors and scanners functioned properly, Michelle Lerner, DCPS press secretary, told AllEyesOnDC. A review of Wilson’s security protocol has been opened to ensure the best rules are in place. School principal Kimberly J. Martin also posted an open letter on the Wilson’s website, giving kudos to those who reported the gun and assuring members of the community that administrators had the matter under control.
Since last Tuesday, Wilson has increased security staff, appointed a special officer, and repaired side doors. After school hours, personnel conduct “sweeps” for weapons and escort idle students off of school grounds. Even so, assurances from Martin and others have fallen on deaf ears, particularly among teachers frustrated by what they call lethargic communication from higher ups.
“Some teachers are on edge and mad that they didn’t hear about the gun from the administration. From the start, they weren’t in the know, “David Brooks, a first-year teacher at Wilson, told AllEyesOnDC. Brooks, who also asked his name to be changed, recounted hearing about the discovery of the gun from students as he walked back onto campus from a nearby library.
“Maybe the administrators were trying to contain the situation but you never want the students to find out about things like this before the teachers. Now, it’s really going to get tight in a space like this. It’s not really the type of environment you want to be in.”
Wilson alumnus Brad Lee pointed to a change in administration and lax security, caused in part by boundary changes and shifting student demographics as a probable cause of the security slip. Though Lee, a 2009 graduate who used a pseudonym, expressed some bewilderment that the teachers found weapons on school grounds, he recounted methods delinquents often used to circumvent surveillance when he attended Wilson.
“It was common for people to bring their friends through the tunnels built for the athletic department,” Lee, now a D.C. government employee, told AllEyesOnDC. “We would often see a lot of folks who didn’t go the Wilson. They would meet their friend at Tenleytown Station so they can be brought into the school. I have no idea why a student brought a gun inside the school this time, but the most important dilemma for me is how it got past security.”
Wilson, located at the intersection of Chesapeake Street and Nebraska Avenue Northwest, has a student body of nearly 1,800 representing a variety of District neighborhoods and ethnic groups. It’s considered one of D.C.’s highest performing schools, with more than 75 percent of its graduates moving on to postsecondary institutions.
The prospects of long-term academic success compelled Ramone Carter to attend Wilson. Carter, an aspiring graphic designer, remains undeterred by the events of last week, saying he will stay at Wilson if it means being in the best position possible to attend a quality university.
“Even with what happened, I feel safe here,” Carter, who used a pseudonym, told AllEyesOnDC. “The opportunities for a successful life made me want to come to Wilson. It’s a good school to come out of when you’re trying to go to college.”