OXON HILL, Md. — Oxon Hill Middle School sits in the middle of a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in southern Prince George’s County. But its tranquil exterior belies chaos within its walls, parents claim.

On April 22, concerned parents gathered in the school’s auditorium and expressed their frustrations over deteriorating safety in the school, saying their children lived in fear of harm from students and staff.

The meeting and the parents’ complaints arose in the wake of the recent removal of principal Sharif Salim in light of allegations of student abuse. 

It is alleged that on April 6, in a gymnasium full of other students and teachers, former teacher’s aide James Davis – also widely believed to be Salim’s son – assaulted a mentally challenged student. 

“The assaulting teacher grabbed a basketball and threw it into the face of this 14-year-old child. He then picked the child up and threw him into the bleachers” the child’s family spokeswoman Natalie Williams said. “As the child attempted to get up, the assaulting teacher grabbed him once again and threw him back into the bleachers for a second time.”

Salim then tried to cover up the incident, Williams continued, saying the child was never sent to the nurse’s office, security was never called and the parents were not notified of the incident by OHMS administration.

While Det. Mark Boyden wouldn’t confirm any details of the incident, a high-ranking school source questioned the severity of the attack. According to the source, had the attack been as vicious as described with as many witnesses in the gymnasium, Davis would’ve been arrested by now.

However, the accusations against Davis are piling up. Parent Celeste Quick told the AFRO her daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was assaulted by the former aide last month. 

Quick says Davis barred her daughter, who needed to take care of a female hygiene problem, from going to the restroom. And, when the student attempted to walk out of the door – after gaining permission from another aide – Davis grabbed her arm.

Quick says her daughter attempted to get Davis to loosen his grip and that’s when her daughter “ended up on the floor.”

The incident has been a source of extreme frustration for Quick as she says neither Salim nor PGCPS officials have been very cooperative. In a meeting with Salim, Davis, her daughter and a social worker, Quick says Salim dominated the conversation, not allowing her daughter or Davis to tell their sides of the story. She said the school’s security was never involved and when she contacted the county officials about the incident they had no knowledge of it. 

“Mr. Salim never gave me a follow-up call. The special ed coordinator never gave me a follow-up call,” Quick said. “No one cared. You’re hoping that this aide didn’t just snap and throw your kid on the floor, but here we go four weeks later and it’s the same aide in the same incident.”

She’s finally seeing progress on her complaint now that it has been submitted to PGCPS Special Investigations Office—a fact that wasn’t communicated to her until the meeting.

However, parents claim that the teacher-student assaults have continued, pointing to an April 19 altercation in a social studies classroom that school officials confirmed.

To compound the problem, parents say, students and teachers are being intimidated by two gangs within the school known as “RFW” and “The Crew.”

One parent said his son was jumped in a school bathroom by five gang members while another stood lookout outside of the bathroom. And, once his wife and police were called to the school, members of the gang proved just how great of a nuisance they really are to the school.

“One of the kids threatened my son,” said the father, who wished to remain anonymous.  “He said, ‘You better not say anything or such and such is going to happen’ and my wife heard it.”

Part of the problem is the absence of any real security force, with one elderly guard for a school with an estimated population of 600.

PGCPS Area 4 Executive Director Helen Coley said she hopes that will change soon.

“We will continue to speak with the Department of Security to see what additional support we can get for this school,” she said. “I’ve already talked to them, but we need a body.  I want a night when we come back , you’ll see that individual.” 

OHMS interim principal Kenneth Calvin said the school has put a new plan in place to combat some of the behavioral problems in the school.

“As seventh-grade administrator for most of this year; every morning I meet with seventh-grade students.  I meet with them and talk to them about character building and academics. What we’ve seen by me doing that is I’ve been able to structure and shape some of their minds so that those who continually had disruptive behaviors are now in the minority,” said Calvin. “In the past week, we’ve expanded that to meet with the eighth-graders also. 

“If they go five days without getting in trouble, they don’t have to hear my voice for a day or two and they hate hearing my voice.”

However with all the issues they see at the school, parents are skeptical of whether the new plan will work.

“We can play politics today and try to make everybody feel better, but something has to change,” Quick said. “People should not be getting attacked in the classroom.

People should not be getting bullied in the hallways.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO