RIVERDALE, Md. - Internal emails from Prince George's County Public Schools officials reveal gang violence is a real concern for students at William Wirt Middle School, even as administrators deny reporting that the incidents are happening on school grounds.
A Washington Post article in June cited sources as calling the school a "ticking time bomb," threatened by gang violence from MS-13.
School officials pushed back at the time, denying that episodes of gang violence happened this past school year.
For the first time, Principal Rhonda Simley granted an interview about the allegations to FOX 5.
"I am very much aware of the allegations that were made and that have occurred in our community," Simley said. "However, there is no evidence of those things occurring at William Wirt this school year."
Simley acknowledges that episodes of gang-related violence affect students in the neighborhood surrounding the school. Public records support that, including an email between Simley and a school counselor on May 24. The counselor writes that she referred a sixth-grade student to Simley to report "the possibility of gang activity" just off campus. The gang task force for the Prince George's County Police Department responded to the school the next day.
Simley also acknowledged fights this school year, but said they don't happen any more frequently than at any other school.
School district officials confirmed that 32 students were suspended for fighting as of May 31.
In one instance, records show that security staff members were out to lunch when a fight broke out early in the school year and administrators could not get ahold of any member of the team. Simley said protocol has changed and a school resource officer was in the building.
Simley said she has a positive outlook for the upcoming school year, pointing out the services that are in place to help students overcome influence from gangs in their neighborhoods.
"William Wirt is an amazing school," Simley said. "Incredible students, supportive parents and really committed community partners, and that is what our focus is really going to be this school year."
The school partners with community organizations like the Latin American Youth Center and the United Way, which provides students and their families with therapy.
"We also have a crisis intervention resource teacher who provides our staff and students with restorative practices so they can make good decisions about problem solving situations that may occur or they are subjected to," Simley said.
Students in each grade level have dedicated counselors available to them to address concerns and the gang task force is on standby to respond to concerns from students and parents.
Prince George's County police have said students' relationships with administrators are working because they have reported gang activity, which had led to arrests. They declined to discuss specifics because of the juveniles involved.