The week of October 7, 2019 at Cedar Shoals High School started off calmly but erupted on Tuesday when a fight involving 20 or more students broke out in the cafeteria, later starting back up in front of the security office.
“It wasn’t clear who was on what side and even sometimes I think some people were on different sides of different points. It wasn’t really like Side A/Side B, it was kind of a mess,” then principal Derrick Maxwell said.
In order to stop the fights administrators and teachers had to pull different students into ten different rooms. People who were friends with each other were put into rooms together. Within these walls, questioning happened to determine the cause of the violence.
“There were some suspensions, some hearings, and some charges,” said Maxwell.
Crowds of students that gathered around the incidents only created more problems.
“The best thing to do is to put your cell phone away and clear the area,” Maxwell said, referring to students who crowd around fights.
Conflict that still exists after the fight will be solved with restorative justice and counseling, but some settled conflicts on their own peacefully outside of school, said Maxwell
The fights caused such a disruption to the learning environment that administration sent an email home.
“I was kind of distracted with all the fights and the threat that happened, I didn’t go to school that (next) day, so I missed a whole day of learning pretty much,” junior Kamiya Mathis said. “I wasn’t really worried at first but I started seeing it everywhere (posts and videos), so I told my parents and they told me I didn’t have to go to school so I stayed home, just to make sure that nothing happened.”
The fight that happened on October 8 is not confirmed to be gang activity even though some witnesses suspected it. Maxwell thinks that the fight was caused by relationship and family problems.
The next day proved even more difficult. On October 9, a student verbalized a violent threat involving a gun during a music class. When the incident happened a security officer was nearby to assist with the student and assure the safety of the classroom.
“The first thing I did was conduct a threat assessment. Do we feel this person actually has the capability of enacting the threat? There’s a million other factors that go into it,” Maxwell said.
There were many upset students in the classroom after the incident happened, but Maxwell explained to the students that he understood why they were upset and that they were not in any immediate danger.
The verbal threat then went viral on social media. Students viewed the video countless times through Instagram and Snapchat, and after a parent shared it on Facebook, it now has over 75,000 views. The posts prompted questions about the school’s handling of both disruptions.
“There were a lot of reactions that alluded to inequitable treatment. And there were a lot of assumptions about what was happening to the student, assumptions about what was not happening to the student, and a lot of assumptions about how it may have been different if the student was different. I’m dying on the inside to respond on Facebook, but I don’t ever, it’s just not worth it,” Maxwell said.
As per policy, administration used the code of conduct to take action after the verbal threat.
“A physical, verbal, or electronic threat that creates fear or harm without displaying an actual weapon or subjecting victims to an actual physical attack,” Maxwell quoted from the code of conduct.
The verbal threat is classified as threat initiation level two. Level three includes an actual physical attack or repeating the same behavior.
“There’s a difference between displaying or verbalizing a threat and posing a threat,” Maxwell said.
Pictures and videos were posted by students making fun of the verbal threat and parents talked about it over Facebook over the next few days.
“If you go outside and talk about something, it goes away. But if you guys post about it, they can get reshared, screenshot, and it’s like everybody’s conversation is public record,” Maxwell said.
Parents rushed to the school to check their students out in case of danger, leading to smaller class sizes and complications for students and teachers. Approximately 300 students were checked out of school on October 9, according to administration.
October 10 was a normal day, but on the morning of October 11 students were put on administrative hold when a post on Instagram went viral saying that a shooting was about to happen.
Maxwell confirmed that the post was not true.
“We want to start tracking down the people that post that because that’s actually a crime too. You can’t disrupt an environment or public institution that way,” Maxwell said.
At the same time, administration understands why parents are quick to react to social media posts or rumors.
“I’ll never blame a parent. If I felt like my child was in any kind of danger, I’d go get them for two reasons. One, I’m not that worried if they missed half a day of school, because we can go do something. And two, it’s sometimes out of an abundance of caution. You just don’t want your kid to deal with it,” Maxwell said.
The next week on October 15 another false accusation of a shooting went viral on Instagram causing parents to check their students out of school once again.
The post was originally sent to a student at Cedar who assumed that it was a false accusation. Someone was posing a friend of hers. After she brought it to administration, they confirmed that there was no imminent threat.
Within such a disruptive week, tensions rose amongst parents, students, and teachers of the Eastside community. People were worried about the safety of themselves and their children while rumors spread around the community.
“I found out by word of mouth and we got word at work. Someone also sent me a picture of the threat. As a parent, I was very concerned about the safety of my son, but as an educator, I had to stay calm and think about everything I would say. I expressed the fact that I didn’t want him to move in fear, but more in awareness. I don’t take threats lightly at all. Unfortunately, we live in a world of hate, attention seekers, mentally ill people. A lot of children cry out for attention in negative ways and this is just one of many,” said Cassandra Burch, a parent.
“I felt like it was a pretty legitimate reason for students to be checking out of school. If it were my child I would’ve done the same thing to assure safety,” Mrs. Joanna Martin, social studies department chair, said.