Smart students, foolish choices. Exposure of fight club at elite New York school creates firestorm

Students from an elite school for gifted students were upset with the Daily News for this story and harassed the reporter and his family.

Students from an elite New York school for gifted students were upset with the Daily News for this story and harassed the reporter and his family.

As a parent, a surprising lesson I learned early on was smart kids do stupid things. I had assumed bright students focused on their futures would not take foolish risks, but I discovered dumb decisions are part of teenager’s DNA, regardless of GPA or ACT score.

And that is clearly demonstrated in a news story riveting New Yorkers. The New York Daily News did a front page article last month on student fight clubs at the prestigious 3,000-pupil Bronx High School of Science. Students at the Bronx Science, one of the top rated public high schools in the nation, were brawling in a nearby park and posting the videos online.

(This, by the way, goes on in metro Atlanta public and private schools. Kids meet somewhere, fight and post it. I have seen a few videos, and the battling seems more theater than tumult.)

The Daily News got a tip about 11 fight clips posted on the “Savage Season” social media site for 1,516 private members. One parent told the News, “It’s one of the best high schools in the country, and then you see the reality of what goes on in there. It’s insane. These kids are super-smart, but they have zero common sense.”

Students didn’t like the resulting story or the trademark Daily News headline — “Put Up Your Dorks” — and went after the news reporter Ben Chapman.

On Monday, Chapman detailed the fallout, which led to the arrest of one student:

My number appeared on the fight club’s 1,500-member private cyberbullying Facebook page. Still more, they posted photos of my family and my house, along with my address.

Moments later my phone began ringing with threats and name calling. Those who had posted my address online, encouraged their fellow bullies to go to my house and attack my family.

All told, I received hundreds of insulting and threatening text messages from more than 100 different phone numbers and dozens of Facebook users, most of them Bronx Science students and alums. Many were upset by a headline, not of my making, that called the school’s brainy students dorks.

The NYPD posted a squad car with lights flashing overnight in front of my house on my quiet, close-knit street. My neighbors were very concerned. We all had trouble sleeping.

The arrested student admitted to posting a social media threat against Chapman and making obscene calls to his home, but the Daily News reporter is calling for the charges to be dropped. Chapman thinks the school administration, which allegedly was long aware of the fight club, ought to be punished, not students, writing today, “Instead, I say to Chancellor Carmen Farina: punish the adults of Bronx Science and central headquarters who let this mess fester.”

In writing about teen fight clubs earlier, I raised a question that pertains to Bronx Science as well. Is the school responsible for what teens do once they leave the building in the afternoon? The fights occurred after school in a public park. Students recorded the fights on phones bought for them by their parents.

Are we asking too much of schools to police what kids do once the final bell rings? Increasingly, we expect schools to somehow patrol the online behavior of teenagers.  Is that reasonable?

What do you think?

Reader Comments 0

6 comments
BrileyParkway
BrileyParkway

I don't understand why you're looking to punish anyone.  What did the kids or their parents or school administrators do that should deserve punishment?

D10 Parent
D10 Parent

No, I don't think that the principal of the school is supposed to be held responsible. She actually went beyond what she is legally obligated to do and reported this to the police even though this took place off the school grounds and outside of school hours. If it took place in Central Park, or in the Bahamas, would she also be on the hook? 


I think this is a reporter on a crusade. He has been relentless with this story about nothing. I'm not at all a boys will be boys type person, but this was literally a group of kids getting together to fool around. Nobody got hurt, they didn't beat each other into a bloody pulp, only once an awkward turn resulted in a busted lip. But those things notwithstanding, Mr. Chapman published the name of the student who turned himself into the police, a 16-yr old whose name will now be forever stored in Google searches. So he essentially ruined a child's life and then patted himself on the back for generously dropping the charges. The 2013 story that Mr. Chapman helped with, also resulted in students suspended from school, transferred out and their names dragged through the mud. The photos published online revealed their names even though they were minors. In the end, all charges were dismissed (not dropped by the student who made the accusations in the first place), and they now have a clean record, as Mr. Chapman calls it. Except it's not clean, because their names are also going to pop up in every internet search. So their college prospects, their employers, their future partners, spouses, etc. will be pulling this information up for the rest of their lives. I am glad that Mr. Chapman have never made any mistakes as a teenager, but not everyone is like that, and he is the judge, the jury and the executioner. He should be ashamed of himself. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Unless the adults were egging it on, it is totally on the students, and their parents.  As to the schools' role: NO, someone besides the school has to be in charge of SOMETHING!

GANAT
GANAT

The students should totally be held accountable.  If my family was threatened, I would not be dropping the charges.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Hold the schools responsible for the choices of teens? Why not? If we can't/won't hold the people who make and carry out the poor decisions responsible along with the ones who are supposed to be raising them, let's dump it onto the schools. It makes perfect sense.

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

I think this goes on in all type settings all over USA not just APS