Originally created 07/06/06

School to shed label as threat



Murphey Middle School is no longer "persistently dangerous," a state official said Wednesday.

But the Georgia Department of Education must receive a request from Richmond County school officials before it can remove the school from the notorious list, department spokesman Matt Cardoza said Wednesday.

Richmond County schools Superintendent Charles Larke said that will happen and he is confident Murphey Middle will no longer be on the list. He won't ask that it be taken off, however, until discipline records are checked one more time. The school system has been investigating the under-reporting of discipline problems at the school.

"We don't want to rush and then come back and be embarrassed and have them add it back to the list," he said.

The investigation is in a "final check" of records, Dr. Larke said.

"They haven't reported anything to me that is alarming that they think would have landed Murphey on the list again," the superintendent said.

The school was placed on the list because it reported a significant discipline infraction in each of the previous three years. In 2002-03, a Murphey Middle pupil was charged with first-degree arson after he set fire to toilet paper in the boys' restroom. A year later, a 13-year-old girl was charged with child molestation after having sex with a 16-year-old boy on the way home from school. And, in 2004-05, a 13-year-old girl was charged with child molestation after performing oral sex on a 12-year-old boy at the school.

Murphey Middle and Long Middle School in Atlanta were the only two Georgia schools on the list last year. Long Middle also qualified for removal, and no other schools made the list, said Wayne Robinson of the Department of Education.

Perceptions of Murphey Middle are just as mixed now as when it was first placed on the list.

Wenitha Holden, 34, said Murphey Middle is just as dangerous as last year for her three children who attended the school.

"Kids are fighting over there in that school every day," she said. "Really, they need to just close that school and relocate these kids."

Four doors down, however, the attitude toward the school is much different.

Parent Chantel Ellis, 35, who has been skeptical of the label, said the school has improved.

"I don't think it's a dangerous school," she said. "I walk through there with no problem."

"If that was the case, I would have moved by now," she added.

Her daughter Leslie said new teachers have helped a lot.

The school underwent restructuring and had its entire staff replaced as it worked toward becoming a charter school. It is still awaiting state approval on the charter application.

Malinda Graham, 32, is one of those teachers who was brought in.

She said she had no apprehension about going there.

"I knew what the kids were going to be like. I knew what the schools were going to be like. I live right here in the neighborhood," she said. "I wasn't concerned."

Ms. Graham said she thinks the school deserves to be removed from the persistently dangerous list.

The superintendent said much has been done to improve school safety.

And regardless of whether the school is labeled persistently dangerous, Dr. Larke said security measures will remain in place next year. That includes the use of Richmond County sheriff's deputies at the beginning and end of the school year and around holidays, when disruptions are more likely to occur. The school board also will be asked to approve placing a probation officer to counsel pupils, the superintendent said.

Dr. Larke expects to present the final findings of the internal investigation of Murphey's reporting problems during next week's school board meeting.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or justin.boron@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Richmond County's investigation of Murphey Middle School is expected to be presented to the board of education during a 4 p.m. meeting July 13.