A second brawl at Charlottesville High School this year has been captured on camera and circulated online.
And while parents have complained that Charlottesville City Schools are not doing enough to keep children safe — especially as they readjust to the social rigors of returning to school in the wake of the pandemic — the school district has said it is doing what it can to help children “re-regulate” and doubled down on its position that phones should be off and away while students are on campus.
The video, which began circulating online at the end of August, shows multiple students involved in a physical fight inside the high school building punching, kicking and pulling hair.
“I think we are off to a good start,” schools Superintendent Royal Gurley told The Daily Progress Thursday at a city school board meeting. “I think what we saw in that video, students who don’t know how to re-regulate their behaviors and we have to differentiate our support to help them make different choices.”
According to school staff, the recent filmed fight only affected a “small number” of students, didn’t impede schedules for the day and did not merit a call to police.
“Nobody wants a school fight to happen, whether it’s two kids or whether it’s four kids,” a Charlottesville City Schools spokeswoman told The Daily Progress. “On the other hand these are young people learning how to resolve conflict and self-regulate.”
School district leaders took the opportunity in the wake of the video making the rounds online to emphasize Charlottesville City Schools’ “off and away all day” cell phone policy.
That policy requires students place their “phones, smart watches, headphones and other personal devices in a backpack during the entire school day,” according to an earlier statement issued by Gurley, who has called students’ obsession with their mobile devices an “addiction.”
“For students who don’t bring a backpack to school, the school will supply a container such as a pencil case,” Gurley said in the statement released last month.
Distributing and taking videos is already against school policy, but Gurley said at Thursday’s school board meeting the school district will now be penalizing students who use their phones to film on school grounds this year.
“One thing we are doing this school year is that those students who are filming are getting consequences, and that did not happen previously,” he said.
Many parents, however, are less concerned about the phones and more concerned about the fists.
Last month, parents joined a virtual town hall to demand the school district soften its ban on cell phones, or at the very least rework it, given the rise in violence at schools — not just school shootings but in the wake of the pandemic as students reacclimate to life in the classroom.
“I have no problem with children not being able to use cell phones during active instruction, but in between classes, I need him to be able to communicate with me and his father,” Sarah Norris, the mother of an eighth-grader, previously told The Daily Progress.
Without that means of communication, parents have said they are worried they wouldn’t know if their child was in danger until it was too late.
“It’s too extreme,” M.J. Smith, whose son is a senior at Charlottesville High School, told The Daily Progress. “I think it’s in the right place, but it comes across as heavy-handed and not well thought out in light of the active anxiety that the community is facing with another school year and active shooter robocalls. We’re all worried about that.”
“We take these things seriously,” the city schools spokeswoman said.
But parents have questioned that as well.
The August video is not the first time a brawl at Charlottesville High School was captured on camera and circulated online.
In January, a video showing dozens of students fighting in what appears to be the school’s lobby was widely distributed. At the time, schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk told The Daily Progress the issue was “not a matter of urgency,” specifically citing that she was called on a weekend to discuss the matter.
In the meantime, Charlottesville City Schools is considering new means to keep students away from their cell phones.
The division plans to implement a different policy later in the school year where students will be required to put their phones in a magnetic pouch that can only be opened at certain locations.
“The pouches snap shut and are unlocked at the end of the day. At that point, our cell phone policy will be “Off, Yondr, and Away,” a statement from the school district says.
That policy is awaiting additional feedback and research.