Philadelphia High School's Cafeteria Becomes 'Full-Time Riot'

The lunchroom at Abraham Lincoln High School was transformed into a punchroom yesterday as students hurled food and tossed chairs while egging on a several male students who were pummeling each other, police said.

Almost all available cops in the Northeast rushed to the school on Rowland Avenue near Ryan in Mayfair around 1 p.m., after hearing an "assist" call over their scanners, said Sgt. Mark O'Fee of Northeast detec-tives.

Uniformed officers, highway pa-trolmen and even some narcotics investigators ran into the school's eatery and found pandemonium.

"It wasn't just animal house. It was a traditional, full-time riot," said an officer who didn't want to be identified.

Police estimated that when they arrived, about 450 students were chucking food at one another while eyeing two groups of four males that were battling each other, continuing a fight that broke out earlier in the day on the school's second floor.

But it wasn't just soft, squishy food that the students were throwing. Police said that the offenders hurled bottles at them and greeted them with punches. Authorities said they treated two officers for assault-related injuries.

Arrested were two 16-year-old and two 17-year-old youths on a litany of charges including causing a riot and assaulting a police officer. Seven other students received summonses for disorderly conduct charges. A school nurse treated another student for a cut lip and a bruised face, the school district said.

"The way school police walked into the cafeteria, it seemed like a food fight," said O'Fee. He said as city cops entered Lincoln, school police ushered hundreds of students into the street, snarling traffic. A police helicopter hovered overhead.

Soon, students were led back into the school and spent the rest of their day in class. Officials said Lincoln's 2,400 students were released at their normal time, around 2:30 p.m. The teens involved in yesterday's brawl were suspended and could face expulsion, officials said.

The district is investigating who instigated the food fight to see if more students should be expelled.

Yesterday was not the first melee involving Lincoln students this still-young school year.

Last week, police arrested about 23 youths for fighting near a local pizza shop. The incident started with a fight between two female students. It was unclear how many arrested teens were students, but five students involved are slated for expulsion, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

And on Sept. 30, three male Lincoln students were arrested and suspended after a near-riot that spread to the cafeteria after an initial confrontation with a security officer in the school hallway.

Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive, said he was displeased with yesterday's ruckus and said Lincoln would be on his watch list this school year. He cited Olney and Martin Luther King high schools as other institutions he has monitored following disruptive behavior.

"We are not going to tolerate this," said Vallas, adding that more security officers and lunchroom aides would be at the school Monday. "Zero tolerance is zero tolerance."