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Dozens of Police Officers Patrol Jefferson High After Race Brawl

Times Staff Writer

The school day at Jefferson High School passed without incident Tuesday. But it was far from typical.

After a surprise visit from Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer, Mayor James K. Hahn showed up. At one point, school Police Chief Alan Kerstein, who was also there, said 29 school police officers patrolled the South Los Angeles campus and 12 more roamed nearby. Attendance at the 2,400-student school was down by almost half.

Administrators hoped to avoid a repeat of Monday, when more than 100 black and Latino students were involved in what was considered a racially- and gang-motivated brawl near Jefferson’s cafeteria at lunchtime. Six students were detained and two of them arrested.

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It was the campus’ second melee in less than a week. On Thursday, three students were hurt in a brawl also involving about 100 students.

Despite the strong showing by police and district officials, many parents’ fears were not alleviated. About 150 parents showed up at the school Tuesday morning, concerned about their children’s safety. In response, school officials held an impromptu meeting in the school cafeteria. Another meeting for parents, faculty, students and neighborhood residents is scheduled for Thursday evening.

People who attended the morning meeting gave differing accounts.

“There was a lot of venting, a lot of fears,” said Hilda Ramirez, a district spokeswoman. Reporters and photographers were barred from the meeting.

“There was a lot of emotion,” said Raul Preciado, a Jefferson High student body president. “It was hard to get anything done.”

Lorena Flores, a senior at Jefferson, described the meeting as positive -- because parents, students and administrators began talking. “It was great,” she said.

But her friend, Liliana Sanchez, expressed frustration that “we didn’t come to no conclusion.”

The two girls had been caught up in the melee the day before. “It was scary,” Liliana said.

According to school officials, a group of parents remained on the campus after the morning meeting to work with administrators on how to dissipate racial tensions. When Hahn arrived at the school about 11 a.m., he met with those parents and some student leaders.

“We want to let everyone know that this campus is for learning,” Hahn told reporters outside the school. He acknowledged that there are “turf wars going on ... but I am going to be fighting for students who want to learn.”

Outside the school’s main doors, some parents waited anxiously for their children, who were dismissed early because of a previously scheduled afternoon faculty meeting.

“It’s sad,” said Emerita Amaya, who added that her daughter was “very nervous” about coming to school again after the violence.

Raul Preciado, 17, said he was surprised that the school had erupted. “I thought we didn’t have that kind of problem here,” he said, referring to the black-Latino tensions.

Principal Norm Morrow said that the problems on campus are similar to problems faced by the area around Jefferson at East 41st Street and Hooper Avenue. “We just have a lot of issues with race,” said Morrow. “It’s coming out of the community, into the school.”

Morrow said that many of the students involved in Monday’s melee will be disciplined.

As he spoke, students began leaving the campus through three separate exits. They passed a phalanx of administrators, teachers, police clutching riot helmets and cafeteria workers offering bag lunches. The Los Angeles Police Department had 15 officers available to help.

In order to keep the movement of students on the campus to a minimum, school officials provided bag lunches for students who qualified for meals from the school because they had canceled the lunch period. Additional changes will be made to the school schedule today.

The lunches, Morrow said, contained burritos or hamburgers -- but not the plastic bottles that had been tossed at police officers the day before.

“I didn’t think burritos would hurt,” Morrow said.

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Times staff writer Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.


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