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Bronx high school may be the last of its kind to see scanners

For its size, which is colossal, Herbert Lehman High School has been one of the Bronx’s safest high schools for years. But recent changes and a spate of fights have put the school on track to get permanent metal detectors next year.

If Lehman does get scanners, it means there will be no large, comprehensive high schools in the Bronx without them.

Department of Education spokesman Marge Feinberg said the city’s police department has yet to decide whether to install permanent scanners next year, but students and teachers at the school said they’ve been told to expect scanners in September.

Metal detectors in airports and government buildings are standard fare, but in the city’s public schools, they’re still a source of controversy. While some parents don’t feel comfortable sending their children off to school every day without the scanners, others believe the devices cause minority students to be treated like criminals.

Every morning, about 4,500 students walk through the doors of Lehman’s campus — a school building so large, it looks like a beige space station has landed on East Tremont Avenue. Roughly 4,000 students attend Lehman High School itself, while 500 go to the other school in the building, Renaissance High School for Musical Theater and Technology — a combination that has put the total enrollment well over the building’s capacity of 3,500.

Several teachers who currently work at Lehman, but who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said fighting among students and gang activity have increased in the last two years, to the point where there are two or three fights a day.

“A lot of the faculty members don’t feel safe anymore,” said a Lehman teacher. There’s “lots of violence, lots of vulgarity, lots of out-and-out insubordination. A culture of disrespect came into the school.”

According to the DOE, serious incidents at Lehman have decreased by 36 percent since last year, but the exact number of incidents will not be available until the state releases its data on school violence this summer.

In early March, a Lehman teacher reported that she thought she saw a student carrying a gun. Though no gun was found, police brought in mobile scanners the next day and discovered students carrying a handful of knives. A week later, two Lehman students were stabbed in Westchester Square, a block away from the school. Last week, a Lehman student accidentally cut himself when the 2-inch knife he was carrying in his pants leg slipped as he was bending over.

“I know there’s weapons,” said Nikki Nedialkov, a sophomore at Lehman. “There’s a lot of gangs in the school.”

Susan Perez, who works in the safety department of the United Federation of Teacher’s Bronx office, said both principals at the two schools that share the building had asked the department for scanners. Neither principal responded to requests for comment.

Perez said one of the factors contributing to school violence is the size of the student population.

“When I walk the hallways it’s very crowded,” she said. “I know it can short fuse a child being bumped into all the time.”

Lehman’s size has not significantly changed in the last several years, but the composition of its student body has.

In the last two years, Lehman has been flooded with high-needs students in numbers the school had never seen before. According to the city’s annual quality review reports, in 2007, 8.7 percent of Lehman students were classified as ELL and 13 percent as special education. In 2008, 38 percent of students were ELLs and 38 percent were special education.

It also has a new principal, Janet Saraceno, who arrived at Lehman in 2008 after its long-time principal, Robert Leder, was removed over corruption charges. Saraceno is currently under investigation for manipulating students’ grades to boost the school’s graduation rate.

Now-retired UFT Bronx Representative Lynne Winderbaum said Leder, Lehman’s former principal for 29 years, was partly responsible for keeping the school insulated from the violence that plagued other large schools by tightly controlling who enrolled.

“I think he managed to keep the demographics of that school from looking like the demographics of many other Bronx high schools,” Winderbaum said. When violence occurred in the past and the subject of bringing in scanners came up, Lehman didn’t have enough incidents to justify making the scanners permanent, she said.

“It’s unfortunate to see the school end up like this,” a Lehman teacher said. “It was a good school that I would have sent my own kids to and that’s not the case anymore.”

Large Bronx high schools Evander Childs Campus – Scanning (6 schools) Adlai Stevenson Campus – Scanning (5 schools) John F. Kennedy High School Campus – Scanning (5 schools) Theodore Roosevelt High School Campus – Scanning (5 schools) William Toward Taft High School Campus – Scanning (6 schools) Morris Campus – Scanning (5 schools) Harry Truman High School Campus – Scanning (2 schools) Christopher Columbus Campus – Scanning (5 schools) Dewitt Clinton Campus – Scanning (1 school) Alfred E Smith Campus – Scanning (1 school) James Monroe Campus – Scanning (5 schools) Walton Campus – Scanning (5 schools) Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education – Scanning (1,362 students) Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education HS – Scanning (1,014 students) Bronx High School of Science – No scanning (2,923 students) Jane Addams HS – No scanning (1,231 students) South Bronx Educational Campus – No scanning (3 schools)