In Cleveland’s academically troubled school district, classes soon will function within significantly beefed-up building security, the city’s schools chief said June 6.

“I would hope it sounds like this is tough,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief executive officer of the Cleveland Municipal School District. “We’ve got to make certain that our environment is such that children who are there who want to learn can learn, and those children who are disruptive will be removed immediately.”

The Cleveland school district, which has struggled with poor state proficiency test performance and a high dropout rate, enrolls about 77,000 students in 122 buildings. Byrd-Bennett was hired as the district’s first CEO in 1998 after a governance change placed Mayor Michael White in control.

A Columbine-style shooting plot was broken up last October, and in January, the Cleveland Teachers Union complained about a growing number of assaults on teachers.

Asked whether the tighter security planned for the next school year might be a reaction to the Columbine shootings last year in Colorado, Byrd-Bennett said: “No. Rather than a reaction, it’s a proactive step. We recognize that public schools across the country, as well as here in Cleveland, are places where we are seeing violence playing itself out more frequently that it should.”

The mayor’s appointed school board will be asked to approve a $21.5 million security budget, up about $8.1 million from the 1999-2000 school year. The money will be used to hire 22 armed Cleveland police officers to work in schools along with a larger school security force.

“The addition of the police I think is marvelous, long overdue, and in today’s world, I think, necessary,” said Richard DeColibus, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union. “There are still some problems out there with some less than functional principals who can’t control their own buildings.”

The plan is focused on middle schools, grades six through eight, where disruptions are most frequent, Byrd-Bennett said.

About 650 students, who should be too old for middle school but who cause problems there, will be assigned to one of two new optional schools, where they will receive the special attention and school structure they need, she said.

The security plan also involves a stricter expulsion policy.

“You also have children who are just not going to fit into the system, who are rebellious and who are causing physical harm, threatening teachers, other kids, and school personnel. That cannot and will not be tolerated,” Byrd-Bennett said.