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One morning before she took Connor to school last semester, McGee caught him with a joint. She took it away from him and dropped him off at school anyway. Within an hour, McGee received a call from the school. Connor was lit. "I was glad he was kicked out," she says. "That's what should be done. He's a very sweet child, but he's been given entirely too much freedom. I take responsibility."
At the time McGee talked with the Pitch, Connor was on a lengthy suspension for getting high.
"I'm totally naive when it comes to the drug culture, but Southwest is known as a drug school," says McGee (who needs an explanation of the term "reefer" during her interview with the Pitch). "A year ago we found out Connor was doing things, and it came up in the spring, but the drug culture is such a lying culture, and they lie extremely well."
Bruno will not discuss the number of times the school has suspended students for incidents involving drugs. "Drugs are a concern everywhere," says assistant principal Clark. "It's a concern here and at all middle schools and high schools. Unfortunately, we live in a society where kids have access and money. Bringing drugs to school is a violation of the Missouri State Schools Act."
"There is one student who is a drug dealer, but he never gets caught. They don't bother him," says Francis Crow.
Warren Deval Boyington, a seventh-grader, says he sees evidence of drugs before and after school. "It does go on, but I don't come to school for that. I come to learn."
Since January 3, when classes started up again after the holiday break, Officer Wagoner says the police haven't received any calls involving students from Southwest Charter School.
After the November melee, Wagoner says, the school's board, along with parents, police and owners of nearby businesses, met to discuss ways to curb the school's perceived appetite for trouble. Over the following weeks, police and neighborhood activist organizations, such as D.A.R.E., the Police Athletic League, the Community Action Team and the Community Action Network, made Southwest Charter a priority. "We are working with the community and school to get the problems solved. The majority of the students are there and they want to be," Wagoner says. "But some students are not interested in education, and those are the ones we are trying to deal with through other means."
And, Wagoner says, the old Southwest High School generated many more 911 calls than the new charter school has. (When Southwest High School was closed after the 1997-'98 school year as part of the district's move to combat falling enrollment, 465 students had been registered there in the fall.)
All may be quiet for now, but Southwest Charter faces other uncertainties. Charter schools are financed by a combination of state and federal funds and sometimes by seed money from for-profit management companies. Southwest's parent company, Boston-based Beacon Management Inc. (which has 28 school-management contracts in five states and operates three St. Louis charter schools), acts as a consultant and investor. But newspapers in other states have reported speculation that the 9-year-old company, which grants schools start-up loans, wants to position itself as a hands-on administrator. Beacon is required by law to allow the schools' local nonprofit boards to make most major decisions about their curricula, budgets and administrations. Charter schools have an all-too-serious possibility of losing their tax-exempt status and federal funding if, for example, their for-profit parent companies wield too much control or undermine the educational process by cutting corners for the almighty dollar.