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After Mosley Murder, Tough Questions About AISD Campus Violence

The stabbing of a Reagan High student is a symptom of a much larger problem, say community leaders

By Jordan Smith, Fri., April 11, 2003

On April 1, less than one week after the fatal stabbing of Ortralla Mosley in a Reagan High School stairwell, allegedly by her former boyfriend Marcus McTear, the Rev. Sterling Lands II issued a missive to the Austin ISD board of trustees, requesting that the district immediately launch an independent investigation into conditions at the Northeast Austin school.

Lands, the pastor of the Greater Calvary Baptist Church -- where Mosley's family is among the congregation -- has often been critical of district practices and policies, and as head of the Eastside Social Action Coalition has consistently demanded parity for East Austin schools. In his letter, Lands tells AISD board President Doyle Valdez that, according to an unnamed school security guard, violent incidents at Reagan are more prevalent than the district admits.

After 15-year-old Mosley's death, district officials lamented her tragic passing and highlighted the counseling (including from mother Carolyn Mosley) provided to shocked Reagan students, but insisted such violence is rare, noting that Mosley's death was the first on-campus incident of its kind. "I never wanted to experience anything like this," Reagan Principal Nolan Correa told reporters on March 31. "You can't prepare for it, and you never imagine it would happen." Correa told the Chronicle on Tuesday that counseling has been made available and used by students, staff, and teachers.

Yet, according to Lands' source, whom he said he quoted "verbatim" in his e-mail to Valdez, fights among students are a regular Friday occurrence at Reagan and often include students from other AISD campuses. Lands notes that there are many isolated and difficult-to-patrol places at the school and that, among other recent incidents, the security guard said there have been teacher beatings and a gang rape in a school bathroom. According to Lands, school administrators rarely stay at the school after 4pm, even though they are supposed to be providing supervision until 4:30, and a teacher assigned to patrol the area near where Mosley was stabbed was instead taking care of track-team business.

Moreover, Lands' e-mail contends that an agitated McTear was referred to school security on the morning of March 28 after arguing with Mosley -- just hours before the fatal stabbing. Correa declined to comment on the specifics of the case or on Lands' allegations due to a pending investigation.

Lands is asking that the district investigate not only the circumstances surrounding Mosley's death, but also the overall level of violence at the school. He has asked Valdez to investigate incidents of "nonfatal victimization" and the number of incidents at Reagan reported to the Austin Police Dept., as well as student perceptions of school safety. "Here's the bottom line," Lands told the Chronicle. "This is not an isolated incident. The whole district has problems, even the plush high schools." Lands said that he has long been aware of problems at Reagan but had been trying to work quietly with the district and school administrators to get them under control. "But we couldn't get anyone to listen," he said. "Nobody thinks it's a big deal unless somebody dies."

AISD Police Chief Pat Fuller said that overall the number of offenses reported at Austin schools has remained fairly static over the past few years -- in keeping with fairly static enrollment. Campus police accumulate about 5,000 incident reports per year. He said that campuses could always be made with tighter security measures in mind, but that "technology and money" aren't going to solve crimes involving "personal crisis." "You really have to get down to what you want a [school] to do," he said. "I can design a school with security as its primary concern -- of course, it would also serve as a great penitentiary. As the level of security goes up, the amount of freedom of movement must decrease," he continued. "This is a personal crisis, this was a crime of emotion. You have to strike a balance ... this is an issue of interacting with people at an appropriate time." Fuller earlier told reporters that "There are a lot of things we say we could have done, [but] the bottom line is that kids make a campus safe."

Meanwhile, district spokesman Andy Welch said the district is taking seriously Lands' e-mail. "We take this very seriously and will respond," he said. On April 2, Valdez wrote a brief e-mail response to Lands saying he shares Lands' concerns. "I want you to know that we will be launching a thorough investigation of the tragedy," wrote Valdez, adding that he would ask AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione "to develop an immediate plan of action for my review." On April 4, Valdez sent out a more comprehensive press release outlining how he intends the district to proceed. Specifically, he and the school board will be convening an investigative team to look into how school administrators "handled events" leading up to the Mosley stabbing. Also, Valdez notes that the team will look into whether violence at Reagan is "out of the normal and controllable parameters and to assess whether programs and strategies should be employed." The AISD board was set to further discuss the Mosley murder in executive session Tuesday night.

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