Should teachers try to break up fights or are risks too great?

Another video of a student scuffle at Discovery High School in Gwinnett is making the rounds today; this one shows a boy yelling at a seated classmate in a dispute over candy money and then suddenly raining blows on his head.

The AJC’s Eric Stirgus reports:

The student who attacked his classmate was charged with battery and the victim was charged with theft, school district officials said.

State data shows Discovery High reported 92 fights last school year, more than any Gwinnett high school. The school, though, had 409 instances of student incivility, which ranked near the bottom of Gwinnett’s high schools, according to the state data.

{Principal} Taylor called the incidents “atypical” of behavior at the school. He asked parents to tell their children to report any conflict that could result in violence and warned students who cheer on fights or record them will face disciplinary action.

A video last week showed a Discovery student slamming another boy to the ground in a locker room. Provided to WSB-TV, the video — see above — was turned over to school officials. A student mortified at the violence in the video told WSB, “It’s just ego at this point; egos and personalities saying ‘Oh I have likes. I’m famous. I can get over 2,000 likes of someone getting hurt.'”

Many parents assume teachers can quell fights, but teachers face dangers wading into a skirmish, risking not only injury to themselves but possibly hurting students in attempts to separate combatants.

Teachers also have to worry about students recording their struggles to subdue a melee. Video of teachers trying to pull kids off of one another could come across as adults manhandling students. Should teachers run into the fray or go for help? (That is what appeared to occur in the second Gwinnett school video, but that allowed the attacker more time to punch his victim repeatedly in the head.)

Speaking of school fighting, the state Supreme Court will hear a case Monday involving the Henry County Board of Education. In 2014, Henry County Schools expelled a girl for fighting; she challenged the expulsion and won in Superior Court and the Court of Appeals. Henry appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Here is the court summary of the case shortened a bit:

The Henry County Board of Education is appealing a Superior Court and Georgia Court of Appeals ruling that the school board improperly expelled a high school senior for fighting with another girl. At issue in this case is whether Georgia statutes allowing self-defense apply to school fights or whether schools may maintain a “zero tolerance” rule against school fights and ignore self-defense as justification.

FACTS: On Jan. 24, 2014, S.G. and S.T. got into a fight at Locust Grove High School. The parties characterize the fight differently. The board’s attorneys state that “rumors had been circulating” that S.G. and S.T. had a “history of not getting along as a result of jealousy and competition for friends, fueled by commentary on social media.” S.G.’s attorneys state that S.G. was a special education student, and that she and her mother, a school employee, “had reported and provided evidence of S.T.’s bullying to school administrators prior to S.T.’s assault of S.G.”

According to the facts, after school on Jan. 24, S.G. went to her mother’s car in the parking lot to retrieve some personal items and was on her way back to the school when she and S.T. got into a verbal confrontation. A video recording shows S.T. following behind S.G. at a clip, and the students’ gestures and body language indicate they are in a heated verbal confrontation. A school secretary later testified that S.T. was “animated” and appeared to be the aggressor by taunting S.G. and yelling, “If you want to do something, do it now,” or “We’ll do it now.” The video shows S.T. coming very close to touching S.G. before stepping back. S.G. then punched S.T., knocked her down and started punching her until S.G.’s mother pulled her off the girl. S.T. got up, again moved toward S.G., who again threw S.T. to the ground and sat on her before being pulled off a final time.

Following a hearing, the hearing officer expelled S.G. for the remainder of the school year with the opportunity to attend the alternative school, Patrick Henry Academy. S.G. appealed to the local school board, arguing that S.T. was the aggressor and she had acted in self-defense. The local board upheld the hearing officer’s findings and the expulsion.

She then appealed to the State Board of Education, which affirmed the local board’s decision, finding that the video and other evidence supported the local board’s decision that S.G. had not acted in self-defense because, although she’d had the opportunity to retreat, she had thrown the first punch.

S.G. then appealed to the Superior Court which reversed the decision, concluding that the State Board had misapplied the law regarding self-defense by requiring S.G. to show that she had no ability to retreat before using force. The Superior Court concluded that S.G.’s actions were justified because the other student had “lunged” at S.G. before S.G. responded with force.

S.G. then appealed to the Court of Appeals which upheld the Superior Court’s ruling, concluding that, “The local board, through its actions and arguments, has demonstrated a policy of expelling students for fighting on school grounds regardless of whether the student was acting in self-defense…Georgia Code § 16-3-21 states that “A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when…he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force….”

ARGUMENTS: Attorneys for the school board argue the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the local board must disprove a claim of self-defense when raised by a student in the civil process of disciplinary hearings. The state Supreme Court has acknowledged “that student disciplinary matters are civil rather than criminal,” the attorneys argue in briefs. And while the school board agrees that the burden does shift to the State in a criminal case to disprove a defendant’s self-defense claim, “such is simply not the law as applied in the civil context,” the attorneys argue.

“The law in Georgia was clear until this case: In non-criminal matters, the defendant bears the burden of proving a self-defense claim.” Furthermore, the evidence does not even support a claim of self-defense in this case.

“In addition to improperly shifting the burden of proof to the local board, the Court of Appeals failed to confine its review of the matter to the evidence as established by the local board.”

 

Reader Comments 0

118 comments
Ashley Sparks
Ashley Sparks

A week ago I busted my knee breaking up a fight. I went back to work on Tuesday. A student started displaying aggressive behaviors, I called for help and no one came. He turned over a bookcase and it hit me. I reinjured my knee...I've been off ever since. I teach elementary school, I can't imagine what middle and high school is like.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

My son was assaulted at Hillsman Middle School in Athens years ago.  The teacher was out of the room.  A girl got up, making a scraping noise with her chair, and my son commented, "Tami farted."  She became enraged, threw him out of his chair, and started beating him about the head.  He did not strike back (she admitted). They were both suspended for "fighting."  I did not agree with this, as he was beaten, but his comment, and her reaction to it, did start the assault.  I told the principal that if he was attacked again, they'd better call the police, because I would be pressing charges.  The principal knew, before all this, that my son had suffered damage to his skull in a freak accident, and that blows to his head could result in very serious, life or death problems.  I wish now I had called the police.


At that school,my son saw a student KNOCK DOWN AND STOMP ON the female school resource officer, who the principal ended up blaming for the assault.  That SRO did not come back.


At some point, we have to get a handle on students who assault others, and treat it in a serious way.  We cannot continue to make excuses for violence.


As a teacher (not in Athens) I stepped between students a few times.  I thought it was important that SOME ADULT stop the assault, and I was the closest one. (This was long before SROs.)

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Similarly, my daughter was assaulted by a classmate in first grade, several times.  I wrote the teacher, asking for help.  The next time, when there was no help given by the adults (including me), when the boy picked up a stick and striped her legs, she grabbed the boy's "rat tail" and pulled the whole thing out.  He never bothered her again, but she was in trouble.  His mother wanted to meet with me, for me to pay for his new haircut (I told the principal that his mama could pay for the trip to the doctor to look at her bruised legs) and his mama wanted us to "help them learn how to get along."  I told the principal that as long as he left her alone, they would get along just fine.


At some point, we have to get a handle on students who assault others, and treat it in a serious way.  We cannot continue to make excuses for violence.  Too many times I heard, "We can't expect better--that's all they see at home."  Malarkey!

bu22
bu22

@Wascatlady Leadership has a lot to do with it.  I was at a Jr. High where one day a friend and I lost track after 35 fights that we personally witnessed.  The next year at the high school with basically the same group, I saw one fight all year and the kids broke it up quickly.  20 years later the Jr. High had gone from roughly 65% White, 30% Black, 5% Hispanic, middle-middle class to 80% Black, 20% Hispanic, lower middle class and was on the local news for the same fight problems.  Only thing in common besides the building was the principal.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

More on that fight caught on the second video today from WSB:


http://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/gwinnett-county/mom-defends-teenage-son-caught-on-camera-punching-another-student/522093564


The mother of a Gwinnett County high schooler caught on video punching another student is coming to his defense. The Discovery High School student is facing criminal charges. His mother says the teen will have to appear in court and may also be expelled for his actions.

Thousands of people have seen the video of the 14-year-old boy punching a fellow student, which led to a suspension and a battery charge. But the teen’s mom says what the public doesn’t see is what happened before the camera started recording.

“I could tell that he felt his back was against the wall and he had had enough,” she said. “I recognize the frustration in him.” The mom told Channel 2’s Matt Johnson that before this happened in class Wednesday morning her son told his teacher that the other student stole his lunch money.

She says no one helped her son so he snapped. “That’s how bullying works. You poke, you prod, you tease and you leave these children with a decision to either continue to be victimized or to stand up for themselves and my son didn’t want to be a victim anymore,” she said.

She says students have bullied and stolen from her son since the beginning of the school year. She showed Johnson her son's most recent report card to point out that he gets A's and B's in school.

“All the hard work he's put in for the whole school year, I mean, it's gone to waste now,” she said.

Starik
Starik

@MaureenDowney Was that a fight? It appeared to be an assault, and quite a violent one.

Dan Mason
Dan Mason

In 1999, I tried to break up 2 boys in the hall at North Clayton High School. These were 2 BIG guys. I ended up on my back, student 1 on top of me, student 2 on top of him, swinging wildly, beating student 1's face savagely, and hitting me too. I could not breathe nor move. Scores of students made a Roman circus around the 3 of us, interlocking arms so no one could intervene. After it was over, my assistant principal told me, "it's better just to let them fight so we can suspend them." That is clearly negligence. I never broke up another fight. I stopped teaching in 2009.

Crescentia Landry
Crescentia Landry

NO, they are their to teach and should react responsibly by contacting the security in the school to avoid more drama. If teachers pay attention, when tension is brewing normally much chatter amongst the students!!!!!!!

Crescentia Landry
Crescentia Landry

Wood Slade Bran CLEARLY I DO KNOW HOW TO APPLY AND UTILIZE COMMON SENSE AS A EDUCATOR OR NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Should a teacher step in to break up a fight?  

As a general rule, not alone.


What if a student is getting his head pounded into the pavement and risks serious injury?

As an adult, it would be impossible for most to stand by and wait for the SRO.  I would hate to think a student suffered a permanent injury and I could have done something.

---------------------------


Does a student give up their right to self defense on the school ground?

Absolutely not.  This is a direct result of administrators abdicating their responsibility to the student population.  They come up with these "zero tolerance" policies because they have incompetent administrators who are afraid to make a decision.

In the one case mentioned above, the student was sitting down and was clearly not in an aggressive mode or fighting stance.  The assailant jumped him while he was sitting.


I think we had more of a code of honor when I was in school.  A much larger bully who picked on a smaller student would get told to "pick on someone your own size" - the message delivered by a larger student and the message was clear; "I'm right here if you want to try to pick on me."


Also, all a teacher had to do to break up a fight was a simple "Alright, BREAK IT UP!"


Finally, if you were an athlete, you had better not get caught standing around watching or encouraging a fight.  That would get you "bleacher drill".

BRV
BRV

Parents didn't routinely sue administrators and teachers back in the good old days. There were also a whole lot fewer "gotcha" stories about school staff in the media. Those factors are what beget zero tolerance policies.

My wife tore her rotator cuff preventing a first grader from hitting another student in the head with a chair. In addition to being injured she was sued by the chair swinger's parents. Intervening in fights typically ends badly for teachers which is why they ought to avoid doing so absent an extremely compelling reason to place themselves at risk.

Sheila Tipton
Sheila Tipton

I'm living with back pain from breaking up a fight 26 years ago between eighth graders. At 5'3" and 1 20 lb. I had no choice, but the pain rarely goes away.

Marty Middleton
Marty Middleton

No! It seems that the teacher always winds up on the bottom rung!

Samuel F. Mosteller
Samuel F. Mosteller

This is a very tangled circumstance. Policy and the law must be reconciled. Teachers, parents, administrators, and school boards are now confused.

Ken430TX
Ken430TX

I taught for 5 years at high school level.  I had a student take a swing at me during a pep rally.  When I defended myself, I was given a written reprimand.  Left teaching that May and never looked back.  It was one of the best decisions I ever made.


Michael Griffin
Michael Griffin

Years ago in the PAGE magazine their legal counsel advised that teachers should NEVER break up s fight. A teacher's responsibility is to call school security or administrators. That being said, I broke up dozens. I remember there was a case in Chicago where a coach broke up s fight, got shot, suffered a career ending injury. He didn't even get worker's comp. Breaking up fights wasn't in his job description.

Deanna DuVall McDonald
Deanna DuVall McDonald

The football coaches know how to break up a fight--at least they did at our school.

Don Morgan
Don Morgan

I have a colleague in another school just had shoulder surgery due to breaking up a girl fight! Tore a tendon.

Svetlana Tru McBeth
Svetlana Tru McBeth

I was almost trampled by a mob of kids trying to shield one girl from being savagely beaten by seven. I didn't go to school for that.

Ty Jones
Ty Jones

Nope unless you don't want to keep your job.

Diane Nestler Rainey
Diane Nestler Rainey

It is coming down to the fact that our schools need a heavy police presents. It is also becoming very clear that if parents can not control their children, they should not be parents

Melissa Suzanne McCoy
Melissa Suzanne McCoy

I am five feet nothing. I have intervened in certain fights. I can't help it; in one of them a kid was getting ground-pounded and instinct took over. My own students tell me never get involved but adrenaline takes over if I think a kid is going to be seriously injured.

Nevets Kilawok
Nevets Kilawok

Unless I know the victim well. I wouldn't consider intervening. Any injury caused by you can end your career.

Courtney Trinique
Courtney Trinique

I say no. Always no. You're a teacher not a police officer or security guard.

Antonia Francis Reifsteck
Antonia Francis Reifsteck

I've told my hubby, they don't pay you enough for a broken bone. Thankfully they have emergency phones or alarms that teachers ring to get back up.

Leah Hallman Ott
Leah Hallman Ott

I taught middle and high school in Gwinnett for ten years before leaving the profession. We were told to intervene at our own risk. School would not cover any injuries we sustained. Our only responsibility was to call for an administrator as soon as possible and to say to the fighters "No! Stop!" Seems silly but saw one teacher stop a serious fight and had the parents sue her for bruising kid who was taller and heavier than her even though she was shoved by the students and sprain her wrist when she fell.

Nick Clifton
Nick Clifton

They use to when i was growing up. Do it if you can or hurry and get somebody who can.

Kaye Rose
Kaye Rose

No ! School resource officers. Also your children should go to learn not to fight. I have told mine if the schills calls me we are going to have an issue because I am not raising savages!

Josh Harrison
Josh Harrison

Every teacher should have a taser and a baton. Tase them then minimum 10 wacks from the baton. Others will soon catch on. Dicipline starts at home. Parents dont care the kids dont care. So lets retrain them.

Dan Mason
Dan Mason

Teachers and innocent persons would be attacked. Ask me. I kmow.

DeeDee Grant-McCarthy
DeeDee Grant-McCarthy

They're damned if they do,and, damned if they don't. No way I'd teach kids beyond 3rd grade if were them.

Roberta Cromlish
Roberta Cromlish

They need to pass a "Good Samaritan" act for teachers and their employers if they try to break up a fight.

Bob Hanley
Bob Hanley

I've seen my fellow teachers have broken jaws, noses, cuts, stitches, broken bones all in the name of breaking up high schoolers fighting. I did it once, ended up with broken glasses, severe burns from a lanyard, sore neck for weeks. After that if students wanted to fight it became the Asst Principals or Police Officers problem. I wrote up a kid for throwing a smaller kid into a trash can. The kids mother threatened to sue the school because she knew her precious would never do anything like that and called me a liar in front of an Asst. Principal who did nothing except apologize to the mother and let the kid off from any discipline action.

Lowell Rogers
Lowell Rogers

Throw these creeps out of school. They don't deserve the privelege of a public education. Reform school. m.a.

Dillon Harris
Dillon Harris

Give the teachers a stun gun. Nothing says stfu and sit back down like 10000 volts

UltraElf
UltraElf

that would work. Of course, the NAACP would say it violated their UNcivil rights.

Justin Trentadue
Justin Trentadue

Kids need much more PE and more positive male role models in school. Schools should teach boxing and hold sparring on a weekly basis so some of these frustrated youngsters can get their anger out.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Actually....   Way back when, if you had a beef with another student, you could both go to the PE teacher and he would take you to the gym and let you "put on the gloves".  After about two minutes of swinging those heavy gloves, it usually took all the fight out of you.


Couldn't do that today.  Someone get a bloody nose and parents would want to sue....


Sad, really.  Could solve a lot of issues 

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

The teachers should try to break up the fight

UltraElf
UltraElf

@BuckeyeGa Heck no! Attys are looking to sue teachers for touching a kid. If two africans want to go at it-LET THEM!

Lexie Kennedy Clutter
Lexie Kennedy Clutter

No thank you. I will call for help, but I'm not mixing it up with fighting students- period.

Max Brill
Max Brill

This is a tough one . If you get involved you maybe hurt , if not the child could be hurt. My best advice is not to if your safety is in danger. You are more important to you and your family then a student .

Nick Clifton
Nick Clifton

I say if you can, but if they're much bigger then call someone to help asap!

UltraElf
UltraElf

teachers should be trained in tae kwon do and jiu jitsu