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November 20, 2015

Does violence go unreported at Washington High? parents ask

Parents say violent assaults between students are commonplace and their children are afraid to go to school

Schools Violence
11202015_george_washington_high_Bing Credit/Bing Maps

Aerial photo of George Washington High School on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.

What's going on at George Washington High School? 

That's what parents want to know.

The school on Bustleton Avenue near Verree Road in the city's Bustleton neighborhood has been plagued by violence for years, but there are indications the situation has worsened since the beginning of the school year in September. 

Parents say that violent assaults between students are commonplace, and their children are afraid to go to school, yet there are no Philadelphia schools on the state's list of persistently dangerous schools – a first since 2001. 

Hundreds of parents attended a school meeting with Principal Gene Jones (pictured left) on Wednesday afternoon to express concerns about their children's safety at the school. Some parents who attended the meeting, however, said those concerns went unanswered.

In interviews after the meeting, some parents said violent incidents at the school often go unreported. They allege Jones is the only reason the school wasn't on the state's persistently dangerous list.

"There really is a climate of fear," said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous. 

Some claim the principal hasn't reported violent incidents in order to mislead the school community about the situation. 

"He doesn't want anyone outside of the school to know what's happening," said BethAnn Jablonski, who has a daughter at the school. 

Contacted to address these claims, a reporter was told on separate occasions this week that Jones was in a meeting and unavailable. Questions of violence at the school were instead pushed to the school district to answer. 

But contacted for comment over two days this week, the school district has not returned calls either to discuss the situation at the high school, which had enrollment of 1,521 students for this school year. 

On Friday morning, however, a woman who answered the phone at Washington High, said that she wanted to talk about concerns at the school, but couldn't out of concern for her job. She did not want to give her name.

"There's a lot I would love to say, but I can't," she told PhillyVoice. "I don't want to lose my job." 

Fear of retribution for those who speak out about problems at the school permeated numerous interviews. 

"He's a snake in sheep's clothing," said Jablonski of Jones. "I don't think his goal is to protect these children. I don't think his goal is to give children a proper education ... I think he's only interested in padding his resume." 

Jablonski said her daughter tells her of violence breaking out daily at the school. As a result, her daughter spends some days at home, filled with anxiety and afraid to go.

"My daughter's attendance is shot," she said. 

Karen Frebowitz, a former administrator at the school, said she was a victim of reprisal after reporting a violent assault to a superior. Frebowitz brought up a pair of incidents that occurred last year involving three Washington students, Carlito Wright, 18, Impraim Kojo, 18, and a third juvenile. 

In one incident, a student's face was smashed with a football helmet; in another, students fought at a gas station across the street from the school. 

Following these incidents, Wright and Kojo were charged with reckless endangerment, rioting with intent to commit a felony, resisting arrest and related offenses. They are are set to go to trial later this month. 

Frebowitz tried to report the assault at the gas station to supervisors,but was told by Jones not to report it, as "it didn't happen on school property," she said. The school district, however, has a Safe Corridors program for all its schools that promises safe passage to students going to and from school. 

Frebowitz said she found herself a target of retribution following another violent altercation, when she had to help a student who was eight-months pregnant after she was kicked in the stomach. 

The girl was taken to the hospital, but when Frebowitz reported the incident to her regional supervisor, she faced repercussions from Jones. 

Soon after that incident, Frebowitz said, she found herself being written up for "things that weren't worthwhile." 

"If you open your mouth there, you're a target," she said. 

Eventually, Frebowitz left the school.

This story will be updated if PhillyVoice receives comment from the high school or school district administration.