Officials are fighting back against a spate of altercations in the Kingston City School District. Last week, the district took its message public in an attempt to curtail not only the fights themselves, but also the sharing of fight videos recorded by students.
“It’s mostly a conversation about Kingston High School,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino during a meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday, February 2. “We’re taking the increase in altercations very seriously. Filming and posting of these events perpetuates the problem, and that’s not going to be tolerated.”
In a popup message posted to the KCSD website last week, school officials brought the issue of in-school fighting to the fore.
“Over the past few weeks, we have seen an increase in the incidences of student altercations,” read the message. “We would like our families to know that we are taking measures to address these issues of misbehavior, inclusive of additional personnel stationed throughout the building for support.”
The notice went on to address concerns with how some students are using social media as well.
“The district has also seen an increase in the number of social media accounts negatively targeting students and school personnel,” read the message. “These accounts are being reported and taken down, but we want to remind our families that such activity on social media is considered bullying and harassment and is a violation of the district’s Code of Conduct. These behaviors will not be tolerated.”
Fighting on school grounds is a Level III offense under the Kingston High School Jefferson Student Code of Conduct, which can result in an expanded informal administrative hearing and/or mediation. For behavior that might yield criminal charges, a superintendent’s hearing may also occur. Outcomes for a Level III offense may include up to five days out of school suspension, or up to five days in-school suspension, and/or loss of privileges. Depending upon the severity of the offense, criminal and/or civil lawsuits may occur, as well as financial restitution and expulsion.
But the issue goes beyond those directly involved in fighting. The district’s message to the school community said that sharing videos of fights has also been a problem.
“We understand that there are social media pages on all platforms dedicated to sharing recorded fights between students,” the message said. “We have been working on this and have shut some pages down, but new pages get started each time one is stopped. Any student who is caught making a social media page that shows any videos or pictures of students in schools will also be disciplined and possibly suspended.”
During the school board meeting last week, Padalino said the district was taking these violations very seriously.
“Any student filming or posting altercations, or any other student activity without permission of the student for the purpose of bullying will be held accountable under our code of conduct, and we will be reporting them to law enforcement for violation of the Ulster County Cyberbullying law,” Padalino said.
The Ulster County cyberbullying law was adopted on March 22, 2017. In the section dedicated to legislative intent, lawmakers said that perpetrators of cyberbullying are “often more extreme in the threats and taunts they inflict on their victims than perpetrators of other forms of bullying” because they don’t often see how their behavior impacts those bullied.
“Cyberbullying follows its victims everywhere they go and can occur at any time of the day or night because cyberbullying is perpetrated online or through text or picture messages on cellular phones and other handheld devices,” reads the law. “Technology has allowed this emotional violence to attack our children at any time, whether at school or at home.”
According to the law, anyone under the age of 16 knowingly engaging in cyberbullying shall be judged as a juvenile delinquent; anyone 16 or older knowingly violating the law but not previously convicted of the offense will be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor; those with multiple convictions can be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, which according to New York State law can result in up to 364 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
According to school officials, students were reminded of the consequences of fighting and its connection to social media during school announcements on Friday, January 28. In the popup alert on the KCSD website last week, they also sought assistance from parents and guardians.
“We ask that you speak with your children about appropriate behavior both in-person and on social media and the effects of poor choices, to make sure they understand that fighting and recording fights in school are unacceptable and have serious consequences,” read the message.
During last week’s meeting of the Board of Education, the superintendent said that school officials decided to engage parents and the greater school community in their efforts because the problem had continued getting out of hand.
“We’ve taken multiple steps throughout the year to address the issues, and we continue to change our practices,” Padalino said. “If we try something that doesn’t work, we try something else. And we’ve decided that this is the next step toward providing a safe and healthy learning environment for our students, and a healthy working environment for our faculty and staff.”