- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A child who fights back in self-defense during a fight at school will likely be punished, according to St. Mary’s school rules.
Parent Tanya Burt found that out Monday after she was called to Piney Point Elementary School to talk about her son, who she said was beat up on the bus last week. Burt’s son was given two days of in-school intervention, sitting in a classroom along with the other boy involved in the fight.
“I’ve always told my son you do what you need to do to protect yourself,” Burt of Tall Timbers said. She said it is unfair to punish a child who is attacked and tries to defend himself.
Burt said she had not heard of the school system’s rule that says both people in a fight get punished, not just the person who started the fight.
“We can’t condone violence,” Kelly Hall, director of elementary schools, said.
While Hall said she could not discuss a specific discipline event, she said that school principals are instructed to thoroughly investigate any school fight, whether in the school building, on an athletic field or on a bus.
“The rule in Maryland is you certainly can defend yourself by moving away or calling for help,” Hall said. But, she added, “Hitting back or kicking repeatedly is a fight. We cannot condone violence in any way.”
Hall said that students involved in fight are interviewed and often admit things they may not tell their parents. Video of an incident, more and more readily available as cameras are installed in hallways, on the outside of school buildings and in buses, can often reveal what really happened, she said.
“We really try hard to investigate fully to get a full sense of what’s happening,” Hall said. “It comes down to how extreme” a person responds, she said.
And, as a matter of policy, school administrators will not tell one set of parents what punishment was given to the other child involved in an altercation.
“The person who started really should have a more stringent consequence” and that is usually what happens, Hall said.
But for Tanya Burt and her son, a third-grade student at Piney Point Elementary School, the two days of in-school intervention was no consolation prize.
“This kid has been bullying my son for quite some time,” Tanya Burt said. However, she had not officially documented any acts of bullying with the school.
She said her son is supposed to only sit at the front of the bus to help him stay out of trouble, but that for some reason he was allowed to sit farther back that day. He was in a seat with a friend and the other student involved in the fight, the mother said, when the student stood up and began hitting her son, according to a video of the incident she was allowed to view. Many buses in the county are now equipped with surveillance cameras.
“My son did fight back to get him to stop,” she said. “You can hear him saying ‘stop’ on the video.”
After her son arrived home and told her the story, Burt said she called the sheriff’s office to report the incident.
On Friday she said she took her son to Piney Point and the principal told her they were aware of the incident and would be investigating it. Later that day she received a call from the school saying she needed to bring her son in Monday morning. There she was told he would have two days of in-school intervention the school system’s new term for in-school suspension and would not be allowed to ride the bus for two days.
Tanya Burt said that the other boy involved in the fight was also in the in-school intervention room Monday.
“Now he’s being forced to sit with the attacker,” Jim Burt, Tanya’s father, said. “How many points wrong is this?” He said he helps care for his grandson and he is not pleased with the way the incident was handled.
“This is absurd,” Jim Burt said.
Charles Ridgell, director of student services, said if a student hits or punches another one, that could be considered a physical attack as defined by Maryland school law. However, if a student fights back physically, the incident could become a fight, in which case both students would likely be disciplined, he said.
“It depends upon the details of the event ... and the severity,” Ridgell said.
The St. Mary’s public school student code of conduct defines fighting as a physical confrontation between two or more students, although it does not explicitly say anything about punishment being doled out to the student who started the fight as well as the student who was defending. The regulations do offer guidance on when police should be brought into the investigation.
An elementary student found to be fighting has a minimum discipline of a parent conference and a maximum of a five-day suspension along with a pre-expulsion conference, according to school system regulations.
For middle or high school students, the minimum consequence on a first offense of fighting is three days of in-school intervention or a three-day suspension and the maximum consequence is a 10-day suspension and an expulsion conference. Actions doled out depend on a number of circumstances, including the behavior history of the student, Ridgell said.