RUSKIN, Fla. — Fights at a Hillsborough County high school have been caught on camera and shared thousands of times on social media since the start of this school year.
The ABC Action News I-Team is learning what’s behind the recent uptick in violence, how widespread it is across the nation, and what school administrators are doing to try to stop it.
The videos are shot by students who flock to fights at Lennard High School, shoot them with their cell phones, and later post them online.
“It’s all over Instagram. You know in class everyone’s like, ‘Oh, did you see the fight?’ that kind of thing,” said Lennard High School student Kathryn Huard.
“They’re on Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok”
Someone anonymously started a page last month on Instagram specifically showcasing Lennard High School fights, but they’re not limited to that social media platform.
“They’re on Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok,” said former Lennard High School student Angelo Lovett, who said he transferred last year to a charter school due to the violence. “It’s bad. There’s fights all the time.”
One video shows students fighting in the courtyard, surrounded by dozens of other cheering students. Another shows boys throwing each other against toilets, tile floors, and steel doors in the bathroom. Girls wrestle on a concrete walkway and slam each other into metal lockers. In one clip, the aggressor assaults another boy perilously close to a balcony. In another post, students bring boxing gloves and duke it out.
“That’s pretty serious. You’ve got to take that serious,” said parent Jim Cain. “Violence is definitely not something that should be at any school basically. I guess the kids are just kind of bringing it to a new level with all their phones and technology."
Parent Leticia Ramirez said she’s concerned about the fight videos she sees on her daughter’s social media accounts.
“She shows me the fights. It’s actually scary,” Ramirez said. “Hands are flying all over the place. Kids get thrown around, knocked down. “
“They could either break their skull or they could have internal bleeding or something like that,” said Terry White, who attends adult classes at Lennard High School.
White transferred to Lennard from Wharton High School, where fighting issues were a problem in the past.
According to state reports, there were 48 fights at Lennard high school during the 2017-2018 school year. That number increased to 61 the following year, then came back down to 53 in 2019-2020. But during that year, students were in class for far fewer days because of the COVID pandemic.
In the first four weeks of this school year, there were eight fights reported at Lennard High involving 21 students.
“We haven’t had the ability to get these kids and love them again”
“These are young kids. They don’t understand how strong they are sometimes. They just know how angry they are,” Kristol said.
He said the school district has implemented new programs including a new focus on delivering mental health care to students to deal with some of the issues causing bad behavior. He also said the district offers family interventions, counseling, education, and other resources to encourage positive behavior among students.
Kristol doesn’t believe Lennard High School has a fighting problem.
“I wouldn’t say a fighting problem. I’d say what’s going on is we have students that are choosing to settle things in a much more aggressive fashion than in years past. We haven’t had the ability to get these kids and love them again,” Kristol said.
He said the district is imposing suspensions and other disciplinary actions involving the 21 students who were involved in fights this year.
“That’s really what zero tolerance is. We’re connecting with all of them. We don’t just ignore. We don’t just say this happened and then we move on… boys will be boys, we don’t say that” Kristol said.
First Side Effects of the Pandemic
“This is the year that we have our first side effects of a pandemic, which is our babies don’t know how to speak to each other anymore. We don’t know how to resolve conflict anymore,” Katrina Hudson said.
Hudson said the pandemic led students to exhibit the same bad behavior as some adults, who in recent months stormed the Capitol, attacked flight attendants, and fought over toilet paper on video clips that went viral worldwide. She said students fighting isn’t a unique situation at Lennard High School.
In the 2019-2020 School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) System, there were 4,214 reported incidents of fighting and physical attacks at HCPS schools. Those two categories account for 56 percent of all incidents at HCPS schools included in the reports. That data includes the number of weapons brought to school, thefts, drug or alcohol use, bullying, and other safety issues.
Hillsborough County Schools accounted for 19 percent of all fighting incidents and physical attacks reported statewide in the 2019-2020 SESIR report. The district is the third-largest in the state and one of the ten largest districts in the U.S.
“It’s upsetting. It’s upsetting to watch that. So we know that we have to do things to get in front of those things,” Hudson said. “We really need to look at it as an issue that is not just an issue for the school to solve but we need to involve our parents and our community.”
Hillsborough County Schools also use school resource officers to not only respond to incidents but also gather intelligence that enables them to prevent violent occurrences in schools.
School administrators say parents and grandparents can also help by volunteering to serve as hall or bathroom monitors at schools after they have passed a rigorous background screening process. They note, however, that volunteer opportunities had been limited in recent months because of COVID protocols in the schools.
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