Bad feelings linger despite Good Neighbor agreement

Tangletown residents say Washburn students still causing problems; school tries new solutions

Neighbors who’ve lived next to Washburn High School for more than a decade of a so-called Good Neighbor Agreement say the feelings of frustration, anger and fear towards the school’s administration, the school district and Washburn students continue.

"Living next door to a high school, I expect some car traffic, some parking, some lingering, but not this rude, crude verbally abusive behavior …nobody should expect that, regardless of where they live," said Doug, a 13-year Wentworth Avenue resident who requested that his last name not be used.

Washburn’s immediate neighbors not only complain of student loitering, drug dealing, car traffic and cigarette-butt trash on their sidewalks and lawns, but also a disrespectful attitude towards residents.

Washburn, 201 W. 49th St., is a prominent sight in the Tangletown neighborhood; the high school is located along the busy West 50th Street thoroughfare.

What drivers may not see are groups of students talking and smoking outside the school, because federal law bars smoking on school property. Students who smoke walk off school grounds and often around the curvy Wentworth Avenue just south of Washburn’s entrance, out of sight from the school during lunch and breaks from class.

Five residents interviewed said that smoking is bad enough, but other activities have made the situation intolerable.

"They stand in front of you, they don’t get out of your way, and they stare you down. They’re sitting on people’s fences, stoops, in the alley. I’ve caught four males smoking pot in the back alley. And I’m not the only one," said Doug.

New systems

At a time when residents say student behavior has worsened, Washburn has started new systems to monitor problems. This year, Washburn’s Student Council authored a contract for students to sign in, before they are allowed to leave the building during lunch hours. The contract delineates expected student behavior.

The contract is enforced by a new identification card scanning system — paid for by the student council — that identifies the students with permission to leave the building. Without the scanners, Washburn didn’t have a system for monitoring which students were leaving the building. School "open campus" policy allows only 11th- and 12th-grade students to leave the building during their free periods and during lunch.

Just a month ago, Washburn hired Washburn parent Barb Moor to improve neighborhood relations and watch students outside during lunch hour. Moor said she hopes to establish systems that will improve behavior. Right now, she aims to keep the kids moving, not standing in groups.

"I’ve said over the loudspeaker that with all their walking, we’re going to have the healthiest group of smokers in the city," Moor said.

Moor says the basic information, including each student’s grade level, has been entered into the system. Only 11th- and 12th-grade students are allowed out of the building, and those without permission to go outside are now blocked. Also, those whose open campus priviledges were revoked are now blocked by the scanner.

But Moor admits, the system does need refining, making it easier to tell when a student leaves and enters the building.

"Basically it’s a matter of money to being available to pay our staff to enter the data," said Moor, who was paid an unidentified lump sum by the school to work 20 hours per week. She said she routinely works more than that already.

Moor faces a continual data-entry problem. Each quarter, student schedules change, including lunch times and study hall periods when they can leave campus. The students who paid for the system can’t enter the data because of student privacy regulations.

Old feelings

Moor, an energetic parent volunteer, faces strong feelings from both the students and neighbors she works with. On her walks monitoring students, she talks and cajoles students into changing their behavior.

"Students are very aware that it is a wealthy neighborhood… they think that [the neighbors] hate them and don’t want them there. I tell them it’s not what we look like or much money we have, it’s who the person is," said Moor.

She also gets flak from neighbors. At the March Tangletown Neighborhood Association meeting, board members disputed Moor’s claim that the neighborhood had calmed down since she was hired. They cited Wentworth neighbors’ problems, including an altercation with a student who began yelling profanities at a resident.

Board member Lynell Voight said, "This has gone way beyond crossing over lawns. [Residents] are afraid to walk outdoors with their young children because students are greeting their friends with ‘Hey motherf—-‘."

Another board member said Moor should remind students that residents aren’t just neighbors, but also taxpaying citizens.

Board member Craig Drugge was not present during the March meeting but has been a liaison for the board to the district. He notes that a long history with little tangible change has broken trust between neighbors and school administration.

"To me, there’s an unwillingness to take responsibility from the school district. No one has said ‘I’m going to take care of this.’ It’s an accountability issue," said Drugge.

While Moor agrees with the neighbors’ complaints, she hopes they will consider the other issues pressing on staff.

"I think Washburn’s relationship with the community is very much on the staff’s minds all the time," Moor said. "What seems to be lacking is the concentration on details. There are a lot of details that we don’t have the time or money to concentrate on. I’m the details person now."

Doug said his Wentworth neighbors are more organized than ever.

"We have some new to the neighborhood, and those who’ve been working on this for years, but they are all concerned, upset and vocal. I don’t think we’ve ever had a consensus this strong in the neighborhood."