School Board considers new rules for fighting

From broadcast of May 16 School Board Meeting


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At its May 16 Regular Meeting, the Alachua County School Board approved on first reading some changes to the Code of Student Conduct, including additional sections and updates to fighting, bus rule violations, and weapons. The changes were recommended by the district’s Discipline Committee, comprising district staff, school principals, deans, behavioral resource teachers, transportation staff, and parent representatives.

Director of Exceptional Student Education Kathy Black presented the updated code to the board. Although the board approved the changes, board members pointed out certain inconsistencies and vague language and requested that Black and her committee address their concerns before the second reading, which will be at the June 6 meeting.

Does the fighting rule prohibit self-defense?

Parents and teachers also took to social media to raise questions specifically about the proposed section on fighting, claiming that the language appears to prohibit self-defense. The proposed rule states: 

FIGHTING: You have a right to be free from fear, harm, intimidation and violence at school, on the school bus, and at school related activities. You must obey School Board policies, administrative regulations, school rules, and classroom rules. You shall comply with all lawful directions of the principal, teachers, substitute teachers, teaching assistants, bus drivers, and other school personnel who are authorized to give such directions. You are prohibited from harming or threatening to harm another person. You are prohibited from inciting or instigating a fight. Any student who urges or directs others by words or actions to engage in a fight will be disciplined in the same manner as those students who engage in the physical altercation. Students who video record a fight, move towards a fight, or refuse to leave the area of a fight when directed by school personnel are also subject to disciplinary consequences. Students shall not aid or assist another student who is engaged in a physical altercation. You are expected to avoid a fight by walking away from the threatened conflict and by reporting the threat to school personnel. Under the Code of Student Conduct, your presence at a fight or an affray, which is a fight between more than two people causing a large disruption, will be considered willful defiance of the Code of Student Conduct and you will be subject to disciplinary consequences.

The controversy stems from two sentences: “Students shall not aid or assist another student who is engaged in a physical altercation. You are expected to avoid a fight by walking away from the threatened conflict and by reporting the threat to school personnel.

Karen Mott told us her grandson, who previously attended Oak View Middle School, was given a two-day suspension at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year for defending himself against another student who attacked him. Mott said her grandson’s friends, who came to his aid, were disciplined as well. 

“I think that they need to clarify the wording in regard to not aid or assist, to ‘except if you’re helping to defuse the situation.’ As we all know, walking away is not always an option, and the aggressor should receive disciplinary action, not the attacked person.”

Mott said she believes that the district is headed in the right direction but hopes that the final draft will be altered “since people voiced their concerns about punishing a Good Samaritan.”

“All of this is moot if school staff and administrators don’t implement these policies, though,” she concluded.

District’s concern is students “surging toward the fights”

District Spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said the language that was recommended by the committee was based on concerns about student behaviors that may prevent adults from getting to the students who are fighting.

She explained that there are times when students are “surging toward the fights” and getting involved on behalf of one side or the other: “They’re videotaping, they’re refusing to disperse, and as a result, you have the risk of staff or students getting hurt because adults can’t get there. That is what this [language] is intended to address.”

She also clarified the penalties for self-defense, saying that “self-defense would certainly be considered as administrators review such incidents.”

Johnson emphasized that the language could change after the board hears from the public.

Retired teacher: running away from a bully is “dangerous”

Ken Campbell, who is a retired special education teacher with a background in behavioral disorders, said the idea of punishing a child who is defending himself is “ludicrous.” 

“The policy they envision seems to know nothing about our children and the world they find themselves in,” Campbell said. “As a teacher, I’ve seen administrators who seem obsessive-compulsive in the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the law. This idea of asking a child to back down from a bully goes against common sense and even the safety of the child under assault. Do we not have administrators and counselors who could evaluate a decision and make a common-sense decision based on events?”

Campbell said that a child running away from a bully is “as dangerous as someone running away from a pit bull” and added that there is no “cultural awareness” in what the district is proposing. 

Board members disagree on the rule change

Following the presentation of the proposed rule changes at the May 16 meeting, School Board Member Sarah Rockwell also expressed her reservations about the language regarding students aiding others who are being bullied or harassed. “We teach students in anti-bullying that they should intervene if someone is being bullied, and I feel like this could contradict that,” Rockwell said.

“There’s a difference between approaching the fight to film it and take pictures to put on social media, or approaching the fight to join in – or approaching to try and de-escalate a situation that’s starting,” Rockwell said.

She added, “I feel like we’re sending mixed messages to our students when we’re telling them to say something and step in when they see bullying, but then they could get a referral for doing so.”

Member Diyonne McGraw acknowledged Rockwell’s criticisms but argued that the behavior is out of control and that those students who are “running toward the fight and not respecting authority” should have “airtight consequences.” 

“We’ve got to stop it, and we’ve got to hold these parents more accountable,” McGraw said.

Member Kay Abbitt pointed out the lack of written consequences in the proposed code, specifically in the fighting section. “The clearer we can be with actions and consequences, and the easier it is to understand, I think the better it will be for parents,” she said.

A public input hearing is scheduled during the next board meeting on June 6 at 6:30 p.m., and the public is invited to provide feedback on the proposed code at that time.

  • Students with patterns of misbehavior should be homeschooled instead. Let their parents deal with it, and stop hurting the education of more courteous students.

  • Students should have the right to defend themselves there is not a cop or teacher around. May not always have a chance to walk away

  • “We’ve got to stop it, and we’ve got to hold these parents more accountable,” McGraw said.

    And how does she plan on holding parents accountable?

  • I was in high school 60 years ago, even then, everyone ran to the fight. Do we now cover and cower when a car wreck happens or watching an injury on the ball field?
    No, it’s human nature. Well to some, at least.

    However we, as adults, teachers, law enforcement, etc., must be allowed to step in and do our job to prevent violence, without racism being tossed around as a blame. Kids can be ignorant, but someone who is being bullied cannot be punished for standing their ground. Nor can anyone else who is defending them.
    Our society is rapidly falling out of control with the unnecessary extreme violence and total disregard for anyone, much less authority.
    A lot of them are children and the problem is going to get worse.
    Many of these undisciplined rats for kids don’t belong in a civil society. And many kids and adults are tortured by these unbridled monsters wreaking havoc on society.
    Look at the miles of drug destroyed streets in our large cities. People are zombies.

    You Karen’s need to wake up!

  • I respect the effort to restore order. Can’t have paddling….but I never saw anybody do the same thing again after getting paddled.

  • Why not enforce the current rules?

    It does no good to make new rules or new penalties if all a parent has to do is call the district office and complain their child shouldn’t be punished. Probably happens more than it should and combine that with the call for fewer suspensions/referrals as a form of discipline, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out part of the problems being faced. The numbers are artificially skewed for a more favorable appearance for the sake of “equity.”

    Is it any wonder the school district had a couple job fairs this year? Teachers, bus drivers and administrators don’t get the support from the district office. It’s no different than the exodus of law enforcement officers of late. When you take away the tools in place to remove the problem(s) from the affected population, the offenses increase and those employees who try to make life better for those obeying the rules decrease.

    That’s Elementary.

  • The discussion needs to be about the consequences of such actions, not about the verbiage of the rules. Enforce the current ones already there. Principles and administrators are smart enough to make the common sense decisions on who needs to be punished. If they can’t be trusted to do that, then they should be replaced with someone who can.

  • There needs to be unpleasant consequences for both the problem children and their parents in order for any change to happen.

    Parents can be fined, have their kids kicked out of after-school programs, become ineligible for free lunches, district-provided laptops, or even use of public school bus system. Affect their wallet or their convenience and the parents will get those kids in line shockingly quickly.

    Kids can be disqualified from field trips and any special activities, forced into after-school detention, given school cleanup duties, have to eat lunch in a separate room, even given the school equivalent of the infamous “prison loaf” for their free breakfast/lunch program.

    When there are no consequences for these little sociopaths and the parents that create them, or the kids can live with the consequences, they have no motivation to behave like normal human beings.

  • This is important as many of the school shootings happen when a student is subjected to physical and emotional (social media) bullying that is not addressed by the school and/or parents.

  • Kick the trouble makers OUT of school. No more student thugs with ankle monitors in class! And please, Jackie Johnson (formerly Kurtz) please shut up.

  • What a load of nonsense! 90% of the high-school kids are not even capable of reading and comprehending that paragraph. It was likely written by lawyers. I suggest we stream-line it. How about just, “No Fighting”? Isn’t that what it boils down to?

  • We don’t need more rules, I am pretty sure there are already rules in school to cover this. How about we just enforce the rules we have and expel students that start fights.

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