Last Week’s Altercations Provide a Learning Experience

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School building in flat style

Marissa Berardo, Staff Reporter

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Several altercations occurred at Westerly High School last week, and some students recorded and shared a couple of these incidents on social media. This raises questions involving the behavior of the students involved in the fights, the behavior of the bystanders recording the events, and what should be done in the future when such incidents occur. The school administration needs to provide clear guidance. A recent letter to the school community by Superintendent Mark Garceau promises concrete steps, and that’s an excellent start. Principal Grimes’ phone call to parents was also most welcome.

First, it is troubling that certain students resorted to physical violence. Anger management and self-control are skills that should have been learned by now. In addition, there are potential criminal and civil legal ramifications when one person intentionally strikes another. One way to prevent future fights might be to invite a speaker to address a school assembly regarding those specific legal consequences. In terms of social media, information about libel and privacy might also be useful.

It is also troubling that some of the students involved in the cafeteria disturbance refused to follow directions. When teachers, administrators, or police officers try to prevent students from fighting, their authority should be respected. Following directions prevents further problems. Again, respect should be taught at home.

What about the bystanders who recorded these various events? Was it right or wrong to record the altercations and post them to Snapchat? One could argue that recording these events preserves evidence and can help identify troublemakers, accomplices, and victims. However, posting a video to social media implies entertainment, not evidence. When several people record a fight with cell phones instead of intervening or calling for assistance, there’s just something viscerally wrong with that picture. As a general rule, it indicates insensitivity and a lack of compassion.

A further question is whether, and to what extent, should students try to stop a fight? Also, what is the quickest way to alert the administration about a fight in progress? These are areas in which the administration needs to provide clear guidance. WHS is a great school, and there is no reason to blow things out of proportion. Our reputation is important to us, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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