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New Conflicts in School Leads to an Increase in Security

By Nathan Williams, Gavin Anderson, and Heeral Patel

Since the 2017-2018 school year has begun there have been several fights that have occurred. As a response to the handful of fights the school have taken it upon themselves to increase some security processions. There will be some changes coming to Francis Howell North.

At the beginning of the year, four fights occurred within a short time span. There was virtually no knowledge of these conflicts beforehand, and the engagements took the principals by surprise.

“Typically, we will hear kind of some talk of So-and-so might have an issue,” Associate Principal Katie Greer said. “So we try to be very proactive about those things. So if we hear it from a teacher, or we hear it from students, or we hear it from parents, we’ll call those kids and find out what’s going on, call some other kids down and really try to stop them before they start.”

The Consequences

Once the first punch is thrown, and a fight starts, participants are subject to punishment, unless one person is clearly acting out of self defense. Academically, the level of discipline a fight can be classified as depends on the nature and characteristics of the event. Punishment starts at a level two offense but can qualify to be a level three offense in more serious cases.

According to former School Resource Officer Sarah Brueggeman, in addition to academic discipline, actively participating in a fight almost always leads to at least one participant being criminally charged. Students 16 and younger are charged as juveniles, while students 17 and older are charged are adults. However, if the fight was a felony – if a weapon was involved or if there were serious injuries – the student can then be charged as an adult, regardless of age.

“I think [students] need to understand that they will be punished for fighting, whether it is by the Code of Conduct or through the court system, whether they’re a juvenile or they’re an adult, and that people can get seriously hurt,” Brueggeman said. “If you hit someone and they fall down and they smack their head on the floor and they die, you can be charged with killing that person, so I don’t think people understand that there can be more severe consequences to fighting.”

The Response

According to Emotional Support Counselor Barry Morrison, teenagers’ brains are still developing, and they develop at different rates, which can result in poor decision-making. The area of the brain responsible for immediate reactions develops early, whereas the frontal lobe, which is responsible for reason and decision making, isn’t fully developed until adulthood, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The school’s administrators and guidance counselors work through issues with individual students. Students in need of this extra support are distinguished through not only their behavioral record, but also by teachers observing troubling changes in their students’ behavior. A student who may experience problems, some of which can eventually lead to fighting, is referred to the counselors to get to a place where they can handle issues more effectively and calmly.

“I think one of the areas the school is trying to do well is making sure that we identify needs quicker, and that we also make staff available,” Morrison said.  “[To do so we have] staff presence in the cafeteria, in the hallways, having teachers checking in on students so they know we’re around to help. We’re not just around to get you in trouble when you fight, we’re around to [say] ‘Hey I hear you guys are arguing, hey what’s going on, let me help you’ so we can get that person who’s angry at somebody to talk about it before they blow up and make a poor choice.”

The effectiveness of this practice varies on a case-by-case basis, according to Morrison, and sometimes potential conflicts go unnoticed. Partly due to the fights at the start of this semester, Principal Andy Downs made a rare decision and moved a faculty meeting up two weeks to Sept. 28. The meeting allowed staff members to discuss the school’s climate.

The meeting began with the staff getting a debriefing on what had happened around the school. Then, teachers had an opportunity to discuss issues that concern them, and they brainstormed possible solutions to resolve those issues. Students out in the hallway during class unaccounted for was one issue they brought to the table. In response, Downs sent an email reminding all staff of hallway expectations and procedures, emphasising students being out during class should be avoided as much as possible. From second quarter to the end of this school year, the school will have two permanent hall monitors, rather than just at certain times, such as finals.

“There have been conversations, in general, about what we can do to continually improve the environment, and those are conversations that will continue to happen throughout the year and throughout next year,” Downs said. “We are going to continue to reflect on what’s going on in our school and think about what are the best ways we can provide the best possible environment for all of our kids.”

The school’s environment is measured through a school climate survey sent out to parents, students and teachers. Administrators work to keep teachers in the loop in matters dealing with improving the school. Teachers have opportunities to give input through meetings. Department chairs are entrusted with relaying information from the principals to teachers. The department chair then comes back to the principals with the feedback they get from their department. Teachers also have the opportunity to be a part of committees and teams that focus on specific areas of improvement.

The Future

Over the summer, teachers Eric Eubank, Ryan Johnson, Marissa Cohen and Sarah Arciszewski and Assistant Principal Chris Birch and guidance counselor Rachel Faulkner attended a local restorative justice program. Speakers from around the area discussed discipline and community building within schools. Using ideas they learned, Eubank and Johnson have worked with Mentors on a new addition to the program that will increase the student role in discussing current events in the community and in the school. Increasing student input on issues within the school is a desire expressed by FHN administrators.

“Students need to have more of a voice in their school and the things that are happening and the ways that they can help,” Associate Principal Katie Greer said.

The Mentors will implement their new program next semester. Mentor leaders will go into homerooms and classrooms to lead conversations about issues that are relevant to the school and the community. This also includes discussing questions on the student climate survey that have seen a decline in positive responses over the years, such as “I feel safe in this school,” “Adults in this school care about me” and “This is a good place to learn.” The program will involve students in all grade levels. While the new program is being tested out, homerooms will be visited on a voluntary basis, so the program does not interfere with homeroom intervention.

“The structure itself is meant to allow everyone to have a voice and express what’s going on so that the culture and the climate in this building isn’t just dominated by misinformation, social media, loud voices, the people in charge,” Johnson, also a Mentor sponsor, said. “So it’s really about kind of spreading out the opportunities for people to have a voice and to have an impact. Having students lead it will hopefully make it such that students feel like this is a shared space where everybody has the same voice, everybody has the same values and we can all express it the same way.”