Open Thread on School Violence

Someone had requested this thread.

I just saw yet another story of school violence, this time at TOPS. Unfortunately, it was characterized as a "brawl" when it was between two students. It also sounds kind of sketchy like the officer who got called - yes, they called the police - couldn't quite figure out the whole story.

So what to make of all this? I'm sure the reality is that on any given day in SPS, with over 10 high schools and 9 middle schools and what? 8 K-8s, that there is likely to be some kind of violence. It's hormonal, high emotion time in middle and high school. I'm not saying that violence is okay but we can't overreact to the fact that it IS a fact of life. Kids get upset and act out.
Does the district keeps accurate stats and if they do, are they available? I don't know. I know the head of security, I could ask her. I wonder if schools have to report everything or just things of a certain uptick factor. Screaming and yelling, no, visible injuries, yes.

If you go on a tour and ask principals, I'm sure you'll get the brush-off. They just don't want to talk about it. I do know that many schools, especially middle schools, have anti-bullying campaigns. You can ask about those.


reader said…
Any word on the victim of the McClure bullying incident? Was the kid "different" in some way? Racially motivated? Disabled?

Any word on what the school is doing to promote a better atmosphere. Word on the street is that the school is "bully Central".
I have heard rumors but I do not know for sure. I heard that a group of students was tired of being bullied by one other one and created a Facebook page. That would be a turn of the coin for one person to do personal bullying and the others to do it via cyber-space.

I would just say that I don't know that any school has a huge problem and I would hope if it did that the staff and parents would work to correct the impression that it is tolerated.

As I mentioned previously, I had just been in the building a few days before this came to light and had seen a sign -

"We reject revenge, aggression and retaliation."

I assume this was in answer to the bullying incident. There was other signage up along these lines so I know they are trying.
seattle said…
I have a hard time figuring out what the difference is between a "fight" and an "assault". In my day there were "fights" at school, and for the most part kids were sent to the office and had to "talk" to the principal. In severe cases the parents were called, and only in the worst cases of repeat offenders was a student suspended.

Today, when there is a "fight" it is considered an assault, which results in automatic suspension, sometimes expulsion, and often ends with the police being called.

Now, I take violence very seriously, don't get me wrong. But, are we over reacting? Do we need to call the police when HS kids fight?

I would think that the police should be called if serious harm is done, for gang violence, if a weapon is involved, rape, or other serious offenses.

But do we need to call the police when two kids get into a brawl at school?

Just for curiosity I looked at the district discipline policy and found that kids can be suspended or even expelled for threatenign someone, making a false alarm, teasing, cyber bullying, harrassment, cheating, graffitti, and lighting a match or lighter on school property.

Are we going to far???
SolvayGirl said…
"threatenign someone, making a false alarm, teasing, cyber bullying, harrassment, cheating, graffitti, and lighting a match or lighter on school property."

OK...the match and/or lighter might be a bit extreme, but it could result in a fire. But which of the other things are OK in high school? I don't know if police should always be called, but is it OK to harass someone? Tease someone? OK to spray graffiti on the school? Cheat?

So Bella, if not suspension, what should the punishment be? A stern talking to? Do you leave it up to the principal's discretion? Does blood need to be drawn, or a lip split? What about damaging (and possibly falsified photos—it's easy with Photoshop) spread all over the internet? There have been documented cases of suicide because of cyber-bullying.

I think by high school kids need to not fight, bully, cheat, etc. I don't remember any fights in my small-town HS, though there was certainly bullying and harassing (girls can be so cruel). That kind of behavior isn't tolerated in the workplace, and I think by the teenage years, kids should be able to practice some restraint. But that's just me. If my child was ever in trouble at school for any of the above (maybe not the match) I'd certainly want the punishment to be enough to deter a repeat performance. And, of course, I'd add my own on the home front.
reader said…
Well, these days, kindergarteners with disabilities are being suspended multiple times for "assault". How much assaulting can a disabled kindergartener do?
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rose M said…
Evidently the policy extends to all ages.

A 9 year old emotionally & learning disabled child was suspended from my child's school for telling a second grader that he would kill her. My child told me that the boy had been saying that to almost everyone that day. None of the kids thought he was serious, just being his usual inappropriate self. However the principal cited district policy & suspended him.
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle said…
Saying "your momma" is teasing. Saying, "girl what happened to your hair today", is teasing?

Suspension or expulsion for that? Really, Solvay?

Cheating on a test? Suspension or expulsion? Really, Solvay?

Smoking pot or drinking? Immediate grounds for suspension or expulsion?

Really? If a kid smokes pot we ruin their entire future by expelling them from school and calling the police? Seriously? Most of us would be digging ditches today had this rule been in effect when we were kids.

What happened to reasonable consequences? Like calling parents and trusting that parents will dole out the consequences at home? Like having a mediation if two kids aren't getting along? Like lunch duty or having to help in the office? or study hall/detention? Or required meetings with the school councelor?

And when two kids willingly fight over a girl or he said/she said kind of stuff, which is usually the case (I'm not talking about jumping someone or gang violence which is in a different category) does that warrant suspension, expulsion and the police being called? Is it an assault when both kids participate? And yes, lets remember that teens are still kids.

I believe that dealing with incidents on a case by case basis, and dealing with them in a responsible, respectful, meaningful way is sometimes better than just kicking a kid out, and calling the police on them.

And, of course, THERE ARE PARENTS. Isn't it still our responsibility to discipline our children? Like Solvay, if my kid did any of these things, he wouldn't have to worry about the police, he'd have to worry about the consequences he'd receive from his father and I. would

How does your private school handle these types of offenses Solvay? Do they just kick kids out? Or do these things just never happen in your small private school?

I think SPS has taken some of these suspensions, expulsions, and police calls WAY TO FAR.
seattle citizen said…
Bella, I'm curious as to why gang violence is in a different category. Not to say I agree or disagree, it's just an interesting subject.

A kid who "does" violence in a school might or not be in a "gang." Gang affiliation is not "in" or "out"; there are shades of subtely.

Is it appropriate to tag something as "gang" violence (and thus, I suppose, add a degree of consequence) and why? I suppose the justification would be that having students in gangs is just a absolute no-no on school grounds, and schools are right, perhaps, to make the extra effort to dissaude this...but...but...

Is violence done by someone who might be in gang worse than violence done by someone who is sociologically unable to refrain from violence?

Are there classist and perhaps racist aspects to labeling someone as a) a gang member; and b) using "gang" violence?

These are children. Many supposed "gang bangers" are 14 or 15. Many are not "in" a gang, but flash, tag, or otherwise identify with a gang because a) they see REAL gang stuff in their lives on a daily basis, b) they feel a need for pretection; and/or c) it's seemingly cool, as it is over-hyped in media and it creates an almost automatic response from adults who think they know what gangs are, or who's in one, etc.

Not all "gangbangers" are gangbangers. These are kids. Rather than use crude labels to escalate the kid's status and treat them as seriosly violent in an organized way, perhaps we should treat any violence as, well, violence and deal with it as we would with any other kid.

Now, where a kid is actually starting to affiliate, and develop habits that will, perhaps, lead to a full-blown gang lifestyle, THIS should be addressed as the problem that is. I just don't see how it's fair or accurate to identify supposed "gang" violence as worse than any other sort. Pain is pain.
seattle citizen said…
Interestingly, the thing adults fear most, perhaps, is the GROUP, the gang, making inroads into a school and bringing some of the codes of retribution. But is not this retribution the very same thing we see with children who gang up on others, conduct emotional, knee-jerk "eye-for-an-eye" short, the things we don't want to see gangs bring to a school are already in the school in the form of vindicative cliques, bullies etc.
Deal with these things universally, rather than calling out poor children of color as "gang" members.

Was the organized theft of billions of dollars by realtors, loan officers, securities packagers, and banks which bet on the failure of many mortgages gang violence? Was it brutal?
SolvayGirl said…
OK...Perhaps I wasn't explicit enough. And remember I was talking about high school students who should know better.

Do kids really get suspended for saying "Girl what happened to your hair yesterday?" Or do they get suspended for constant MEAN teasing of a particular child? Mean teasing can lead to disasters like the school shootings in Columbine and Springfield.

Cheating gets suspension—hell yes! It is never OK to cheat on a test. If the consequences aren't tough, what's to stop everyone from doing it? And I've read that research shows more and more kids believe cheating is OK—not in my house.

Pot smoking/drinking—on school grounds! This isn't cause for suspension? Great, why don't we just hand 'em all a six pack when they start the year.

Fights over a girl/boy—on school grounds. Not OK—especially when it ends up flying all over the internet. Physical acts of violence among girls are on the rise—not a good thing in my book.

Again. By high school kids should know how to restrain themselves. I believe suspension is a good consequence to hopefully deter behavior. To me, anything else sends a "this isn't serious" message. Expulsion is for extreme events (rape, true assault, etc.) or repeat offenders.

In private school kids do get suspended and/or expelled for these types of behaviors. But it happens a lot less often and I know it's because the kids are often cherry-picked. I saw a lot of fighting and bullying in our public elementary school. Sometimes it was handled well, other times not. A lot depended on the principal (we did have NINE in SIX years).

Schools don't function well if discipline is a constant problem. If kids don't feel safe in class, or are subject to constant disruption, they can't learn as well, if at all. And, unfortunately, a lot of kids don't have parents who would dole out their own consequences. So until we have better parents all around, I believe the schools will have to take a sterner role.

It's a big district and they must set policies, but I think principals already use their discretion. The suspension rate at Cleveland is high because of a zero tolerance policy. It's lower at RBHS because they cut kids more slack. Their principals have different philosophies as to how to deal with these issues, and seem to be able to adjust their disciplinary measure accordingly. I've not been in their classrooms on a regular basis, so I don't know which policy works better.

And without some written policies, schools open themselves to lawsuits. Taking cases on a one by one basis takes a lot more time and can be influenced by staff's biases. Kids with persuasive parents might get off where a kid with uninvolved parents might suffer the consequences—despite which of them was truly in the wrong.

Until the District starts documenting all acts of violence and transgressions, regardless of the disciplinary measures used, we won't have any idea of what works. So, until then, I'd prefer to see a tough stand on acts of aggression, cheating and other unacceptable behaviors (especially at the high school level).
Lynne Cohee said…
It's not something that I have any personal knowledge about, but as a lawyer I assume that the district has some pretty clear guidelines about what behavior triggers certain consequences, when the police are called, etc. Otherwise they would really be opening themselves up to potential liability.
seattle citizen said…
LynnC speaks to what might drive a lot of the changes we see between when we were in school and the current atmosphere. In the 1980s, litigation stormed the world: suddenly lawsuits were everywhere. ALL businesses, governments, etc are now super-cautious about it.
When I was a dorm manager in 1985, we were told (warned) about this: There was a student at a college in the midwest. He complained, loudly that a rooftop stairway had no gate. College put up a gate. he climber over it, fell, broke a bone, sued and won...
go figure.
Schools might be more prone to using the extreme penalties and less judgement because someone will sue their butt.
seattle said…
"Do kids really get suspended for saying "Girl what happened to your hair yesterday?" Or do they get suspended for constant MEAN teasing of a particular child?"

It's arbitrary isn't it? It's all up to the principal/dean at a school how they interpret policy. Officially, saying "girl what happened to your hair", even one time, is teasing, and teasing according to policy, is grounds for suspension.
seattle citizen said…
...and if the poor principal decides that "girl, what happened to your hair?!" does not warrant a severe consequence, Girl's parents might drop on the principal like a ton of bricks, whether is was part of a pattern or not, whether is was "serious" or not.

Bless the educators who use common sense, for they risk the wrath of a helicopter parents. Or the possibility that they misjudge the situation, and real conflict ensues...

It's a tough nut to crack
SolvayGirl said…
"Bless the educators who use common sense, for they risk the wrath of a helicopter parents. Or the possibility that they misjudge the situation, and real conflict ensues..."

zb said…
I don't find physical violence a tough nut, for high school students. Younger kids, I understand, it's more complicated.

But in high school, kid's should be told that unacceptable touching is not OK. There's no such thing as an acceptable high school fight, nor is there such thing as an acceptable workplace fight (assault).
seattle citizen said…
true, zb, but even in HS it gets sticky:

Unless there is a zero-touching policy, roughhousing can look like fighting. Teacher asks: is this a fight? Students both reply, "no."


again, unless there is a "no contact" policy, common sense is called upon to determine if a fight is happening or not. It might seem easy to tell - facial expressions, attitudes, etc but it's subjective.
Josh Hayes said…
District policy seems to be pretty clear about most of this stuff - I've had cause the last day or so to delve deeply into it, unfortunately.

"Assault" need not involve actual physical contact. The mere threat of aggressive physical contact constitutes assault, and merits suspension. So sayeth the District.

This HAS to be very selectively enforced: kids shove each other, punch each other in the arm, and so on, ALL THE TIME. If we suspended 'em every time they did that, the schools would have tumbleweeds blowing down the empty halls. In the end, we hope the Principal has the brains to recognize trivia as trivia, and serious infractions as serious infractions. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes not, and I expect they err on the side of caution (that is, suspend for trivia rather than risk failing to catch something serious).

BTW, as I understand it, the difference between assault and fighting is the degree of participation -- if they're both throwing punches, that's fighting. If one is punching the other, that's assault.
Sahila said…
I think its time that school policies aligned themselves with the norms of physical and psychological development in CHILDREN (which is who we are talking about, after all), and they dont...

Please note:
5. Learning Identity Versus Identity Diffusion (Fidelity)

During the fifth psychosocial crisis (adolescence, from about 13 or 14 to about 20) the child, now an adolescent, learns how to answer satisfactorily and happily the question of "Who am I?" But even the best - adjusted of adolescents experiences some role identity diffusion: most boys and probably most girls experiment with minor delinquency; rebellion flourishes; self - doubts flood the youngster, and so on.

Erikson believes that during successful early adolescence, mature time perspective is developed; the young person acquires self-certainty as opposed to self-consciousness and self-doubt. He comes to experiment with different - usually constructive - roles rather than adopting a "negative identity" (such as delinquency). He actually anticipates achievement, and achieves, rather than being "paralyzed" by feelings of inferiority or by an inadequate time perspective. In later adolescence, clear sexual identity - manhood or womanhood - is established. The adolescent seeks leadership (someone to inspire him), and gradually develops a set of ideals (socially congruent and desirable, in the case of the successful adolescent). Erikson believes that, in our culture, adolescence affords a "psychosocial moratorium," particularly for middle - and upper-class American children. They do not yet have to "play for keeps," but can experiment, trying various roles, and thus hopefully find the one most suitable for them.

Unfortunately, the work of Erikson comes out of the 50s - a very different world to the one our young people inhabit today... and most of our youth face enormous challenges their predecessors did not...including finding mentors and role models demonstrating a healthy view of the world...

School discipline needs to reflect this reality, not punish young people because they're floundering around in the polluted, disease-ridden swamp we now call life in America...

You might consider reading Adolescent Psychological Development
Rationality, Morality, and Identity
by David Moshman
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

for more info, especially his latter comments about the purpose of education versus the challenges of growing to maturity in our society...
reader said…
Rose, which school was an EBD disabled second grader suspended from?
mkd said…
without a zero-tolerance policy against all violence and bullying, where do we draw the line? Perhaps the line between "just fights" and outright aggression could be judged on the relative weight of the fighters - that is, fair fights are only fair if they land in the same weight class. Hey, let's charge money. Girl fights are more entertaining, especially if accompanied by hair pulling and biting as onlookers stand around yelling "fight, fight, fight." Weight class would not apply, cat fights make great entertainment. Let's put it all on YouTube. How about the big teen boy snuggling up close to your freshman son, you know, the kid who jokes about your son's sexuality as he tries to place his hands in places they really don't belong in order to entertain his group of cronies? I suppose we could ignore it and brush it off as sexual exploration, a boy searching for his identity, probably just boys being boys. What about the high schooler who chokes another in the middle of class, an unprovoked attack that leads to hospitalization? It's not stealing, just looking or borrowing. It's not punching, just a love tap (even if one ends up out cold on the ground). Like permissive parenting, case-by-case is an ideal, not reality. All kids need and appreciate boundaries, and if parents can't or won't, the school has to have clear policies posted that outline rules and consequences, that students agree to and parents sign off on, to prevent arguments when emotions run high.

As for infringements like pot or smoking, schools have to have the right to prohibit these activities, at least on campus.

Can you imagine any employer putting up with this behavior?

I agree that learning limits and boundaries is supposed to be part of good parenting. Not all kids have good parents.

Violence is violence, no matter how you sugar-coat it. Let them learn somewhere, "if you do the crime, you do the time." In the end, I believe it is preferable to learn that poor choices carry consequence before graduation than after. Penalties often increase exponentially once you turn 18.
"Can you imagine any employer putting up with this behavior?"
And MKD, you hit the nail on the head and I didn't. Even with hormones and high emotions, kids need to learn boundaries. We do not accept people hitting each other as adults (rarely) and legally, you can't just hit someone and get away with it.
seattle said…
OK, maybe I wasn't very clear in my earlier post. I am NOT advocating for kids to be able to walk around schools hitting each other, fighting, smoking pot, teasing each other, and cheating. I don't know how anyone could have thought, from what I wrote, that I thought this behavior was acceptable and OK in our schools. Clearly it's not. Clearly these behaviors warrant consequences.

What I am saying is do all of these behaviors always warrant suspensions, expulsions, calling the police, and criminal prosecution?

Do we have other ways to deal with inapropriate behavior? Are their in house consequences that a child could get that don't lead to kids getting a permanent record, or booted out of school? How about if a kid is caught cheating on a test he gets a zero on that test or flunks that class? Isn't that a natural consequence for cheating? Or must we really suspend or expel him? How about mandating that a kid that has been caught with drugs or alcohol attend a drug and alcohol education program? And, if someone is caught teasing another student, how about they attend a bullying class? And, they attend a mediation?

How did schools used to handle this type of behavior?
mkd said…
Bad choices have consequences. High school kids need to know this. To reiterate, I believe it is preferable to learn that poor choices carry consequence before graduation than after. Penalties often increase exponentially once you turn 18.

When a school has a clear set of policies and procedures posted that outline rules and their consequences, that students agree to and parents sign off on, students may make the right choice, avoid the bad behavior, or at least have the sense to take it elsewhere.

Exceptions should be appealed at the district level or to the board.

Side note, after a knife fight at one of our home games, the high school I attended adopted a zero-tolerance policy. That was more than 30 years ago.
seattle said…
Far out thought here. I'm ready to take some hits for this, but I'm going to throw this out there.

Is Columbine type mass violence the by product of zero tolerance?

In the 80s when I went to high school and kids got into a fight teachers separated them and told them to go in different directions. That was they end of it. Occassionally they got detention, and for very serious offenses they were sent to the office where they had to "talk to the principal", or have their parents called to come and pick them up from school early. I only remember one suspension in 4 years. No expulsions. No police involvement.

And, no Columbine level mass violence in my school or any other across the nation.

Mass violence is a relatively new thing.

Perhaps, kids need to be able to let off some physical "steam" sometimes? Perhaps the occasional fight releases some of that teenage energy, so it doesn't build up to Columbine.

I know this sounds like I'm condoning violence. Let me be clear, I'm not. I'm just wondering why, as consequences have gotten harsher, so have the offenses.
Josh Hayes said…
Melissa sez:

"We do not accept people hitting each other as adults (rarely) and legally, you can't just hit someone and get away with it."

(Unless it's consensual, of course.)

Quite true. But I'd bet if you surveyed every person reading this blog, you'd find that a) practically none of the women ever engaged in fighting in school, and b) nearly all the men did, at least once or twice.

And I'd also bet that the number of those men who engaged in fighting in school who were suspended for it is exactly zero. I'm not saying that it was better that way, it's just when I was in school (I graduated high school in 1977, for the sake of reference), if a couple of guys came to blows, they were separated, went to the Principal's office, the Principal read them the riot act, made them shake hands, and everyone went back to class.

Strangely, I don't remember seeing any ill effects from this -- no kid who was a serial fighter got away with it for more than three fights. Nobody ever got injured beyond bumps and bruises. And in the end, we learned the lesson that if we acted like that as adults, we'd be arrested.

Kids get in shoving matches. What's the appropriate response? I don't know, but what I do know is that judgement needs to be applied. The current set of rigid rules are dumb: Principals need the authority to step outside those lines if they deem it appropriate.
SolvayGirl said…
Oh, but I think principals do step outside those lines all the time. Why else would RBHS not call police when a student was raped on campus? Why does Cleveland have such a high suspension rate compared to RBHS? More kids misbehaving? Or zero tolerance at Cleveland, compared to staff discretion at RBHS?
mkd said…
I would like to see a consistent set of rules applied district wide to all of the high schools, not just guidelines, but policies and procedures that schools are required to follow in the case of infractions against the rules, i.e., call the police when kids are choked in class. That way, there is hard and measurable data regarding violence, or misbehavior if you will, when parents (like me) can really see the kind of school our kids are attending. I like statistics, besides
I'm a zero-tolerance kind of girl, so I will respectfully going to agree that some of us disagree. You all have a good night and good weekend.
Charlie Mas said…
I got in fights in school at the elementary and middle school level, but never in high school. I was the object of bullying and all but one of the fights were a natural consequence of it. The one other time I was part of a bullying mob, so my record isn't all that clean. I was never suspended for any of them nor was anyone else and I think my parents were only called about two of them. It wasn't considered a big deal.

Back then, bullying was a life lesson, not a capital crime. Back then, the manly response to bullying was to fight. I am so glad that I'm not trying to raise a son in the 21st century. I'm still working out how to be a man in the post-modern era; I'm not sure I could show a youngster the way.

Perhaps the key here is that school fights are often a consequence of bullying and it is the increased focus and enforcement on bullying that has given rise to the increased focus and enforcement on fighting.
Johnny Calcagno said…
TOPS is the school our son attends. The specifics in the original story are a little too close to home for me to be addressing publicly, but as an occasional contributor to this blog it makes sense for me to comment a bit.

I could write for pages about bullying and school violence in general, and TOPS’ school climate in particular, but l won’t. I do want to clear up a few things, however.

First, the incident as reported in the media (both the Stranger and PI reported it) wasn’t particularly accurate or nuanced. That’s understandable to some extent, and given privacy concerns, I am not going to make the picture very much clearer. Let me just say that the pen stabbing incident was quite likely the culmination of bullying; Charlie’s reporting above about his own elementary school fights resonates. I am not in any way condoning violence to combat bullying; Obviously if a kid feels he or she is bullied, striking out at tormenters isn’t going to solve anything.

Second, although I can’t easily do a comparison, it is a little hard to believe that TOPS is any more Bully Central than other schools. Is there more bullying than I think there should be? Yes. Do I think that the administration and school community could be doing more to address the situation? Absolutely! But we are on the third or fourth year of an Olweus affiliated anti-bullying program (called CARE), and a LOT of work has already gone on and will continue to go on. I’m hoping that last week’s fight is going to spur a lot more activity on that front and I will be pushing hard for it to be effective and strong. The main weakness over the years is how to work anti-bullying efforts into an already crowded school day, and how to get families engaged at home.

As to how private and public schools differ in how they handle bullying, my single data point is that there was FAR more bullying at the private (pre-K-5) school our son attended prior to TOPS. Of course that doesn’t mean all private schools tolerate bullying; I doubt that very much. But I will say that public schools clearly have a much more difficult task given the fact that each school more or less has to somehow work with every kid and family who walks in the door. Some years and cohorts are easier than others.
Sahila said…
All this talk about 'if you do the crime, you do the time' makes me laugh...

I spent 20 years as a military wife, married to a military policeman...

The joke amongst the troops was that it wasnt the behaviour that was wrong, the crime was being found out/caught....

If you look at what young people are exposed to in the media and in pop culture, you'll see that violence is portrayed as a normal activity and that the crime is being caught...

Archaic and harsh disciplinary measures dont instil confidence, co-operation, compliance and a commitment to change - they only create resentment towards authority figures, allegiance to negative role models and lifestyles and a commitment to avoiding detection in the future...

And no, I dont advocate for the acceptance of violence as a viable and OK mode of getting what one wants/holding one's ground... I'm a pacifist, it pains me deeply that my elder son is serving militarily in Afghanistan and I left my last marriage because of domestic violence....
nikki said…
SPS has always tried to cover things up because they do not want to be sued. There is a lot of information that if ever made public could blow the lid off many things. Why do you think the district, the superintendent and board members try to partner up with and befriend people in the media and organizations with power? Those outlets that can literally destroy the district and expose their negligence in many areas.

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