Chaos in the Classroom

The Investigators

Fighting in S.C schools

CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – Over 22,000 fights were reported in South Carolina schools last year. That’s up roughly 13 percent from the previous year. 

A Count on 2 investigation revealed that Charleston County School District leads the Tri-county area in school fights, with some schools reporting numbers in the hundreds. 

Family counselor, David Kalergis, says the high number of fights in the classroom is cause for concern. 

“When they’re happening in the frequency in the hundreds, that starts to normalize that.”

As for the other two districts: Berkeley County has seen fluctuations and Dorchester County has actually seen a decrease in classroom fighting over the past three years.

Chicora Elementary boasts the most reported fights with over 280 last school year. A full list of schools and reported fights can be found below: 

Kalergis says fights involving elementary-aged students can mean trouble in the future.

“It sets the blueprints and the guidelines for the young adults that they are becoming.” 

He also adds that there are a number of factors that could contribute to a child acting out during school, including what they experience on a day to day basis. 

“Are they witnessing violence at home, what are they exposed to on social media, what movies are they watching, and what video games are they playing?”

As for how these outbursts impact the learning environment, Kalergis says the repercussions extend far beyond the individuals involved. 

“It sets a tone and creates an environment that can mess up the learning process and that can make kids anxious and scared about going to school.” 

One school district’s response

Last year, over 22,000 fights were reported in South Carolina – a 13 percent increase from the previous year.

A Count on 2 investigation revealed that Charleston County School District leads the Tri-county area in school fights, with some schools reporting numbers in the hundreds.

In the first installment of this piece, a family counselor shared what factors cause violence and aggression in young children. Now, CCSD officials detail the programs that have been put in place to combat fighting in the classroom.

The Director of Alternative Programs and Services, Jennifer Coker, says they noticed the increase in reported fights between 2015-2018 and have introduced new programs to curb the trend. 
Some of these programs include:

  • Positive Behavior and Support (PPIS) is a way for schools to explain expectations for behavior and teach students what they should and should not do as well as providing positive reinforcement for good behavior.
  • Second Step is a program that provides social skill development through a structured curriculum for pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten aged students.
  • A program highlighting ‘restorative practices’ is focused on conflict resolution and relationship building.

The programs are meant to focus on communication, decision making, and expression which are areas that children often struggle with.

“We really realized our kids didn’t really have the skills we needed them to have for communication which is at the crux for most kids getting into trouble.”

Coker adds that the programs have paid off, citing a ten-percent decrease in reported fights this school year.

“It brings more consistency to help kids understand the steps to doing the right thing when they may not have known them before.”

Chicora Elementary, a school that topped the list for the 2017-2018 school year with 287 reported fights, has seen one hundred fewer fights this year. A contributing factor to this decrease is the introduction of five Student Concern Specialists who move around the district depending on individual elementary school’s needs.

Michael Reidenbach, the Director of Security and Emergency Management, says the top priority of the district is ensuring a safe, beneficial learning environment for all students.

“There are those of us in the district and throughout our schools who want nothing more than to keep our kids safe and help them be more productive citizens.”

As for whether Coker believes the school district is doing enough to reduce fighting in schools, she says they still have a ways to go in changing the culture of schools.

“Change is slow, but it is positive and we do feel like we will see a significant change in the next few years.”

A parent’s perspective

In the past three years, tens of thousands of fights have been reported in South Carolina schools. Charleston County School District has among the highest number of fights inside the classroom.

In the first two installments of this piece, a family counselor shared what causes aggression in children and how it can impact the learning environment. Then, CCSD officials shared how they are curbing the problem.

Now, a mother shares the story of her son’s own run-in with classroom violence and says she’s still searching for answers from school officials.

“I’ve told the school, they do nothing about it,” Kim Marion says.

Marion says she was surprised to learn that fighting had become a common occurrence at her son’s middle school, which reported 66 fights in the 2017-2018 — about the equivalent of one every three days.

Her son, Matthew, says unlike his mother, he was not surprised to see the numbers because he experiences it each and every school day.

“It’s horrible,” Matthew explains. “I try to get to class and the whole hallway is just clumped up with people and then people start shouting.”

Matthew adds that his peers tend to pick fights where they know nobody is watching.

“They fight where they know cameras aren’t working or there aren’t cameras.”

Kim says that the constant cycle of fighting in Matthew’s school has begun to disrupt the learning environment for her son.

“He wouldn’t want to go to school, his grades were suffering, and it was difficult to see him go through that.”

Matthew and his mother agree that social media has only made the problem worse by creating a culture that glorifies fighting.

“When people see fights the first thing they do is take out their phones to record it. They do it so that people respect them,” Matthew says.

Kim claims that getting answers from school administrators has been nearly impossible.

“They’ve said ‘we’ll take a statement, we’ll investigate, we’ll get back to you’ but nothing’s ever done.”

Community activist, Elvin Speights, says he regularly hears the same concerns from parents across the district.

“They’re at their wit’s end, they’ve tried everything, they’ve been to the school, they’ve called and they’re just as frustrated as the children.”

Marion is just one of many parents who says the district needs to make some changes to protect students.

To learn more about the district’s response and how violence in the classroom could be affecting your child check out parts 1 and 2 of this series.

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