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Mecklenburg schools impose zero-tolerance policy after series of disruptions

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / November 17, 2021
Responding to a series of incidents this week at Mecklenburg County high schools and middle schools, the Mecklenburg County school division has imposed a zero-tolerance discipline policy that spells out escalating punishments for students who exhibit bad behavior.

Like many school divisions across the country, MCPS has seen a spike in student misconduct as youths make the transition from pandemic-induced school shutdowns to a new normal.

Some of the troublesome behaviors include teens acting out by trashing bathrooms or using their cellphones to spread rumors about perceived or exaggerated problems at their schools. But school administrators also say there has been an increase in fighting and bullying, also.

Last week, Park View High School experienced four days of disruptions. On Tuesday students confronted and surrounded the school resource officer after he approached a student about a behavior issue. On Wednesday, a student was seriously injured during a fight that allegedly began in response to ongoing bullying.

Two students required medical attention on Thursday after ingesting THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This prompted a school lockdown at Park View as EMS responders, the SRO and school administrators dealt with the students. Then on Friday, parents rushed to Park View High School to pick up their kids after receiving false calls about a potential shooter on campus.

At the Monday night meeting of the school board, MCPS Superintendent Paul Nichols, with the full backing of school trustees, announced the new “zero tolerance policy” — covering everything from minor offenses such as dress code violations and improper use of cell phones, to more aggressive and disturbing behaviors of bullying, fighting, and drug use.

Nichols said the decision to implement stricter disciplinary measures came after a meeting with Mecklenburg County Sheriff Bobby Hawkins, who stressed the importance of creating a safer climate inside the schools and curbing student disruptive behaviors now, before next year when the county’s two high schools and two middle schools merge.

With each incident that played out at Park View High School last week — except the one that took place Tuesday, involving the Student Resource Officer — the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office was called to the campus to quash the disruptions. The interventions meant that deputies were not available for other law enforcement duties.

By last Friday, parents and former students at Park View High School took to social media to air their frustrations with the ongoing disciplinary problems occurring at the school. Some commenters lamented what they characterized as a lack of communication by school administrators about the problems and corrective actions being taken. Some of these social media threads spread unsubstantiated claims and falsehoods about the events of the week, and how the school addressed the problem.

One complaint was repeated over and over — parents felt that too little accurate information was provided to them in a timely manner. This fueled their fears for the safety of their students.

Nichols spoke about the problems in a video presentation on Sunday, telling parents and families the reported issues are not unique to Park View High School. Bluestone High School, Bluestone Middle School and Park View Middle School have seen their share of fights and drugs on campus this year as well.

MCPS is not alone in seeing a surge of violent behavior in schools.

According to a report published in The Washington Post in October, a Pennsylvania high school reverted to virtual classes after receiving credible threats of escalating violence stemming from student melees. In Maryland, a school resource officer was assaulted by students, and in Columbus, Ohio, nine teachers were injured and seven students were charged with aggravated riot. These are only three among hundreds of incidents that have ensued with schools back in session across the country after the height of the pandemic.

The National Association of School Resource Officers reports that from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, there were 97 reported gun-related incidents in schools. During the same time span in 2019 — when students were last in school full-time — there were 29 reported gun incidents.

Nichols’ comments allayed the fears of many parents, though several still said they were shopping for private or home-school alternatives.

In an open letter to parents and the public published in today’s edition, Nichols writes that he wants to separate fact from fiction about recent events at county schools, and he outlines a course of action to address the problems that teachers and staff are experiencing.

To start, Nichols writes, the student dress code will be strictly enforced, especially when it comes to prohibiting the wearing of flags as apparel. “Flags mean something. Flags cannot be used as a way of bullying, and we honor the American flag,” Nichols’ piece reads. The comment comes in response to unverified claims made online by a student who said he could not display the Confederate flag on his clothing, but LGBTQ students were allowed to wear a rainbow flag.

The on-campus police presence will be stepped up. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting more drug searches at the schools, Nichols writes, and students choosing to fight may face criminal charges. Bathroom breaks and relief from mask wearing will be curtailed, and rule infractions, no matter how minor, will be punished.

Nichols expanded on the school division’s new disciplinary practices in comments before the School Board on Monday night, at the November monthly meeting of trustees. He said the expectations for students are not new. They are outlined in the student handbook given out at the start of the school year. While enforcement may have been lax in the past, that will no longer be the case, Nichols said.

Teachers and administrators have tried to work with students to ease any COVID-related behavioral issues they may be experiencing. “Unfortunately, students have taken advantage of social media to get into mischief,” Nichols said.

In his open letter, Nichols writes: “Social media brings a significant amount of misinformation. Guns at school, shots fired, none of that happened. Stories of students overdosing were not true. There was medical attention needed [at Park View on Thursday but it was not an overdose.”

Nichols further notes there are “stories of all kinds of things not in our school and the students are taking advantage of it. Fights have always been in school. Now, students can expect to be carried out in handcuffs. We don’t want to make our schools look like jails, but we will have to be prepared,” he explained.

Nichols said he is aware that students are dealing with a number of hot-button and emotional challenges — LGBTQ tensions, racial tensions, and pandemic-related anxieties, among other issues. It is the responsibility of the school division to prepare students for life after high school. Therefore, “significantly more administrative power will be applied” to students who fail to follow existing rules of conduct, Nichols stated,

Parents who spoke at the Monday night School Board meeting praised the superintendent for the forthright comments in his video presentation Sunday. They offered a few suggestions of their own.

Brad Evans, father of two MCPS students, encouraged the school division to “start back with enforcing the simple things. Stop [violations] at the beginning.” He invited school administrators to “inconvenience me” by notifying him whenever his children are breaking any rule, from improper cellphone usage to dress code violations. “I promise you it [the violation] won’t happen again.”

“You have to be firm, fair and consistent,” said Evans. “If you enforce the [student code of conduct] manual with zero tolerance the rest of the job gets easier.”

James Garner, also a father of two students in the school system, thanked Nichols for his “honest and frank video. It’s nice to see someone who did not mince words.”

Garner said he did not agree with Nichols’ plan to expand police presence at the schools, saying, “More police mean more kids in trouble and more time away from school.” He acknowledged that the current school atmosphere may warrant a stepped-up police presence “for now.”

A more long-term solution, he said, would be to eliminate cell phone usage at the schools except in cases of emergency. “Come up with a system that puts phones in places [they can be accessed] in case of emergency. Tik Tok and Snapchat are ruining our kids. Taking phones out of school, that’s eight hours less time kids get bullied.”

He encouraged parents to take advantage of parental apps that track their child’s phone usage. “It’s okay to monitor your kids’ activity on the phone. I use MM Guardian.” The app allows him to remotely shut off his child’s phone, said Garner.

He recommended the school division consider adopting a mentoring program started in Shreveport, La. called “Dads on Duty.” The program was a response to a series of fights at Shreveport’s Southwood High School that led to the arrests of about two dozen students. Now about 40 men take turns monitoring the halls in the school, interacting with students, to combat school violence.

The volunteer program provides a male presence for students who may be without a father in their life, according to Garner. He said the organization, if sufficiently diverse, could be a good influence for dealing with racial and LGBTQ issues. “We need to be and show an example for our kids. It will give teachers and administrators a chance to focus on their jobs. They deserve a break and ability to focus on teaching our kids.”

Melody Homiak suggested the installation of drop boxes where students could report any fears, concerns, or issues they may be experiencing.

She, too, thanked Nichols for his Sunday video message. “I watched your video. It was like a weight lifted. It was the truth and that’s all we wanted.”

Natasha Pettus, aunt of one of the boys involved in a fight that occurred last week at Park View, said the views expressed by some — that students are carrying behavior problems from their homes into their schools — is not accurate. She said she teaches her child to fight back if someone comes at him in a threatening manner.

She was alone in voicing objections to the new zero tolerance policy. She said the policy would leave out the mitigating circumstances that are often the most important details in student incidents.

Pettus said her 15-year-old nephew has been accused of engaging in gang-related activities after he and two cousins got into a fight at PVHS last week. He was defending himself, she said, adding that he’d previously told school administrators about being bullied “but the school did nothing about it.

“If there were four boys coming at you, would you walk away?” she asked.

Pettus said the school is claiming that since there were three boys engaged in the fight, that it was “gang-related.” The three boys she said were her nephew, her son, and another cousin.

“If the boys did not have to be pushed to defend themselves, they wouldn’t have been engaged in the conduct. You can’t keep poking at a snake and expect not to be bit.”

She criticized the School Board for agreeing to a policy that would impose criminal charges on students that engage in fights. “You’re making felons of these kids. How is that going to make things better for the kids?” she asked.

Pettus agreed with Garner’s call for a “Dads on Duty” mentoring program, saying, “Dads on Duty is a good idea because boys need positive adult influence. All men should jump on that.” She also agreed with taking cellphones away from students, saying the school should install an organizer to store phones.

Jessica Hoback, a teacher at PVHS and co-adviser to the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), admitted that in the past she had not enforced the “no cellphone use” policy in her classroom. “I thought it was no big deal if students were learning.” Her view changed last week after seeing how the students misused their phones and “spread wild rumors. Things were getting out of control.”

More than one student shared with her that he feared for his own safety because he was being cyberbullied, though she said she did not buy into the hype. “Part of it is just rumors. I don’t think any of these more violent threats will come to fruition.” Despite her own skepticism, Hoback conceded that “kids are really scared.”

One rumor that she hoped to halt by speaking up Monday night involves the GSA Club at Park View High School. The students were not planning a walkout at the school and they were not “stirring the pot” by spreading rumors or causing other problems, said Hoback.

“I see nothing other than positivity” from GSA students, she said.

Saying he was bullied as a child because he is gay, School Board Chair Gavin Honeycutt said he supported the new zero tolerance policy. “This board has not always agreed. I will say that after some great dialogue that tonight is the night that the bullying, drugs, whatever else stops here. We are going to be behind our superintendent 120 percent [on this]. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. Everybody has to be on board. We’ve spent millions of dollars on Chromebooks so why do we need cellphones. We have phones in the office. We don’t need cell phones and we have a policy that says no cell phone.”

Trustee Glenn Edwards said, “It’s like the children go home and come back angry. Their phones are not helping. Social media has ruined our society.”

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Comments

This is what happens when you stop education and try and force all these social agenda programs that the demorats want. Most teachers are demorats and support this, now they don't like the results. When I went to school the principal and teacher could whip you, they need to bring that back.

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Those cookies look good.

Comments

NOBRAINER=ALLPOLITICAL2 =BACKWOODS THINKING=PARTYLINES=POTBELLY STOVES. Give it up. Today we have advanced. You cannot whip in this day and time. If there is discipline, then it up to the parents. Teachers and Principals know they can’t put their hands on students to discipline. If they do, it is their job.


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