Fights caught on video in Guilford County schools mirrors other districts

Say Something app logs increases in violent activities

Guilford County Schools Emergency Management Executive Director Mike Richey

RALEIGH — Several videos of students fighting in a Guilford County high school have raised concerns about student and school staff safety in recent months.

Video of three violent brawls at High Point Central High that occurred in October was sent to the North State Journal by concerned parents.

In one of the videos, half a dozen male student assailants attack another male student who has been knocked to the floor of the school’s bathroom. The assailants took turns beating on the boy, who near the end of the video is heard screaming for help as he tries to protect his head.

Another video shows a fight breaking out in a hallway involving two female students. As the fight progresses, one of the girls yanks braids from the other girl’s head and land on the ground. A school resource officer (SRO) did intervene and break up the fight but as he attempted to escort one of the girls away, she strenuously resisted and at least one other individual had to assist in removing her from the location.

One of the fights caught on camera was more of a melee among half a dozen or more students in the middle of a hallway. Other students are seen running to get out of the way as the fight between two of the brawling students spills out into a different corridor.

Guilford County schools also had security and fight issues last school year. In May, eight people, including a parent, attacked a 14-year-old female student in the middle of class at Southern Guilford High School.

The parent involved in the assault, 37-year-old Kiamosha Devanee Sutton, was arrested and charged with breaking or entering a building with felony intent to terrorize/injure an occupant. She was also charged with three misdemeanors including inciting to riot, assault, and first-degree trespass.

Also involved in the attack was Anikqua Shydasia Beatty, an 18-year-old from Charlotte. Beatty was charged with inciting to riot, assault, and first-degree trespass. The six minors involved in the attack have had juvenile petitions filed against them. Three of the six are also being charged with trespassing.

Mike Richey, Guilford County Schools’ Executive Director of Emergency Management, told North State Journal the district won’t comment on specific incidents for privacy reasons. He did say that fights that had occurred were addressed through the district’s disciplinary measures and that “the proper action was taken.”

“Nationwide, fights are increasing in schools,” Richey said. “And, unfortunately, I think that’s a reality of the leftover residual effects around kids not having been in school in near the numbers they are for a year and a half and really not knowing how to handle themselves.”

Richey went on to say that kids are figuring out how to handle “perceived wrongs” that have built up over the time period of not seeing one another. About the increase in school fights, he added “it’s everywhere” and that Guilford was trying to implement ways to increase security and curtail violence.

Richey was hired by Guilford County schools in July of this year after previously working as the deputy chief of police in the Greensboro Police Department. Richey was with the Greensboro Police for almost 28 years.

One avenue Richey said was being looked at involves increasing awareness of the issue so that kids can get the psychological help they need to cope with “all the trauma and loss they’ve had over the last year and a half.”

“We’re not in denial about it and we’re really trying to be proactive about it,” Richey told North State Journal. He also said in the meantime school officials are taking the proper discipline actions when needed and that both teachers and parents are involved.

“In our urban areas in the state and across the country, violence is going up overall,” said Richey, who also cited a 36 percent increase in gun violence nationwide this year in urban communities. He said they are seeing the same rise in violence, albeit not widespread gun violence, in schools as they are in the community as a whole.

Richey said they want to partner with local law enforcement agencies to look at the issue “holistically.”

Parents in the district have reported that some School Resource Officers (SRO) were working without contracts and reports that some of the agencies supplying SRO’s have not been reimbursed by the district.

In June 2020, the Greensboro City Council approved cutting $500,000 to fund SRO’s in Guilford County Schools. County Commissioners criticized the move and included enough funds to cover the program in its $602 million dollar budget.

Richey said it was “unfathomable” that SRO’s weren’t being paid and that the 2021-22 budget was still being finalized as are contract negotiations with the three law enforcement agencies providing SRO’s.

“In the 20 years we’ve had school resource officers we’ve never not paid an invoice for school resource [officers] and that’s not about to change now,” Richey said.

The incidents in Guilford County are mirrored in reports of fights and violent activities in other North Carolina K-12 districts.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), the second-largest in the state, WBT’s Brett Jensen reported that “A big brawl between students and family members occurred Tuesday afternoon at dismissal at Ranson Middle School, where at least one teacher was injured. As a result, new pickup rules are in place. All students have to remain in school until their parents or guardians arrive.”

Jensen also reported that “A juvenile has been arrested. CMPD says they’re still investigating and that “additional charges may be forthcoming.”

Multiple fights broke out at North Mecklenburg High School during October and there has been an increased police presence there as a result.

On Nov. 3, Jensen reported that 15 guns have been found at CMS schools since Aug. 25. There have also been allegations of sexual assaults occurring on at least one campus within the district.

Other examples of fights include one at a Rolesville High School football game in Wake County involving an undetermined number of people and possibly involved some students.

Last school year in Gaston County, two students were attacked at Forestview High School in Gastonia. Both fights were recorded on cell phone cameras by other students. One attack involved two male students and no teacher was in the classroom at the time. Another involved two female students. The teacher was not in the room when the fight started but did return and broke up the fight.

School officials in Gaston County were apparently warned before the attacks occurred yet the attacks still occurred.

Most school fights and related incidents are not reported in the news, but school shootings are.

At the start of the school year one student, William Chavis Raynard Miller Jr., was shot and killed by another student at Mount Tabor High School in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth district. The shooter was 15-year-old Maurice T. Evans Jr., who was taken into custody and has been charged with murder.

Just days earlier in New Hanover County, a fight at a high school left one student shot who was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Police arrested 15-year-old Chance Deablo on charges including attempted 1st-degree murder, possession of a weapon on school grounds, discharging a weapon on school grounds, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.

One way schools get warnings of possible issues is the “Say Something” app, an anonymous reporting system where threats or concerns are submitted, vetted, and then passed on to the appropriate local district personnel.

The app is not a comprehensive list of incidents that may occur on school grounds as evidenced by the weapons discovered in CMS. Jensen indicated to North State Journal that tips about 13 of the 15 weapons found on CMS properties were reported verbally either to the school or another method other than the Say Something app.

A more formal and detailed reporting of school crime incidents comes in an annual report based on data from districts sent to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) at the end of each school year. The data collected is compiled in an aggregate report, the Consolidated Data Report (CDR), which is then presented to the State Board of Education in mid-January and a copy goes to the General Assembly by March.

The most recent CDR lists 7,158 acts of reportable crimes in schools statewide during the 2019-2020 school year which is a crime rate of 4.69 crimes per 1,000 students. This rate was the lowest in five years.

Possession of a controlled substance (3,642), possession of a weapon (1,655), and assault on school personnel (1,035) were the top reported crimes. The full list is in the table below.

As of this school year 868 schools and 98 of the state’s 115 districts are using the Say Something app based on numbers supplied by DPI communications director Blair Rhoades.

The vast majority of the state’s districts were already using the app before the pandemic with Rhoades indicating there were 534 schools and 69 districts on board at the launch of the app in 2019. In an email response, she said that during the 2020-21 school year, 203 schools and 22 more districts were added and so far for the current school year 7 districts and 131 schools have been onboarded.

North State Journal asked for current school year reporting statistics. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) produced reports for both the 2021-22 and 2020-21 school year spanning the period of Aug. through Oct.

The app data provided for Aug. to Oct 2020-21 included 420 total reports made. That total rose to 1,468 in 2021-22 – an increase of almost 250%.

Rhoades pointed out that some schools were operating remotely last fall and that more schools are now using the Say Something app may account for a rise in reports, however, an analysis of the line item topics shows explosive increases.

Bullying/cyberbullying remained the top reported item going from 78 reports in 2020-21 to 181 in 2021-22; an increase of 132 percent.

The biggest increase found is “planned school attack” reports which rose 4,900 percent over 2020-21. The second-largest increase was school fight/assault with 833 percent.

Excluding “practice tips,” the next biggest jumps were “weapons” with an increase of 700 percent, sexual harassment up 550 percent, general school complaints up 525 percent, and drug use/distribution up 518 percent.

Bullying, drug use, cutting/self-harm, and planned school attacks all had reports in the triple digits.

Suicide/suicide ideation reports also rose from 48 reports to 87.

Gang violence/activity rose from 5 reports in 2020-21 to 16 this year, representing a 220 percent increase. Physical abuse was also up with 14 reports in 2021 versus three in 2020 or a 367% increase.

Below are the twenty most reported items for Aug. to Oct. of 2021-22 sorted by highest to lowest and compared to the current school year with that of those logged in 2020-21. One item reported for the current school year but was not a listed report item in 2020-21 is “depression/anxiety.”

Event Type (Range: AUG-OCT) 2021 2020 % Increase
Bullying / Cyber Bullying 181 78 132%
Drug Use / Distribution 136 22 518%
Cutting / Self Harm 106 40 165%
Planned School Attack 100 2 4900%
Suicide / Suicide Ideation 87 48 81%
General School Complaint 75 12 525%
Harassment / Intimidation 72 16 350%
Hate Crime / Hate Speech 57 11 418%
Depression / Anxiety 57 n/a n/a
Weapon(s) 48 6 700%
Concern about an Adult 39 9 333%
Anger Issues 31 8 288%
Practice Tip 30 4 650%
Planned Fight / Assault 28 3 833%
Intent to Harm Someone 28 5 460%
Sexual Harassment 26 4 550%
Reckless / Dangerous Behavior 22 6 267%
Verbal Abuse 21 5 320%
Sexual Assault / Rape 21 4 425%
Domestic Violence / Child Abuse 18 13 38%
About A.P. Dillon 533 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_