As the second half of the school year opens, the Franklin County School District is looking for ways to nip in the bud a growing trend towards students using social media to coordinate fights on the campus of the Franklin County Schools.
Sgt. Allen Ham, school resource officer, told school board members Dec. 18 that the school has been the site of several “pre-planned fights,” which students are planning via social media, and then photographing or videoing the fight and uploading the images to various sites.
“This is different, and we’re dealing with it every day,” said Ham.
Principal Jill Rudd said the students quickly delete the videos, but that administrators have learned details about the process in which students arrange via their cellphones for the fights, and what they do with the evidence afterwards.
“Friday was supposed to be a pretty big fight,” she told school board members Dec. 18. “We called the sheriff.”
She said a Snapchat account is being used by a circle of friends, one which Ham termed the “Franklin County Fight Club.” He said the fights did not, strictly speaking, qualify as bullying, as the students involved all appeared to consent to the confrontations.
“Bullying happens over a period of time, when there’s been attempts to stop it,” he said.
Ham said the fights do not typically involve weapons, although he noted that “a knife was found on campus close to where this fight took place.” He said he could not determine whether the knife had been used in a fight.
Students who engage in this planned fight behavior are subject to out-of-school suspension, which can escalate from three and five days, to 10 days.
Ham said students can be subject to a misdemeanor charge as well, and that after one chance of a civil citation, they are subject to criminal prosecution. “Battery’s battery,” he said. “It’s not really the kids you’re expecting.
“Some kids are drawn in, others instigate it,” Ham said. “These are the kids who are causing the problem. Videos are causing the fight to happen.”
Ham said that incidents such as these, as well as other problems with bullying and classroom disruptions, take him away from his preventive duties regarding fighting drug abuse and other proactive measures. The district has in place a 10-week program for sixth graders called “The Truth About Drugs.”
Superintendent Traci Moses proposed hiring a second school resource officer at the school through the remainder of the school year.
“I would prefer law enforcement to handle the issue versus a hall monitor,” she said. “One resource deputy is not enough support.”
By unanimous vote, the school board voted to allocate about $17,500 to pay for five months of salary and benefits for a second resource office. The estimate is based on a starting deputy salary of $32,000 annually.