Order is an order at (WHS). That was the message to students from school officials and police after number of fights occurred this fall. Several students no longer attend the school – by court order.
Principal Lyn Fields said, “Most of the problems came from the outside and were brought inside.”
Lower Gwynedd Juvenile Detective Fowler told Patch, “There were a lot of incidents in a two-and-a-half month period, from September to the early part of November.” Fowler said police were involved in “about 20 incidents.”
Fowler, a 12-year Lower Gwynedd police veteran said, “I was shocked how many times there were calls for fights. I don’t recall this number of fights in such a short time,” said Fowler.
Students sustained the following types of injuries from the fights: scrapes, bruises, black eyes and head aches, said Fowler.
He said he did not see any common reasons for the fights other than name calling. Fields said there were disputes over boy-girl relationships.
Fights that resulted in the more serious injuries led to simple assault charges. Approximately 10 students appeared before a juvenile judge, said Fowler. Other students received summary offenses, which are lesser charges, and appeared before District Justice John Murray.
Fowler said he “struggles” with each incident because if he has to charge a student with a misdemeanor, it may follow the student into adulthood.
“I bring in the kids with parents, and the other student,” to learn the full context of the disagreement before leveling charges, he said.
“For some, it was a first offense. I consider that with the severity of the fight and the injuries,” Fowler said. “With some kids, it’s a one and done thing,” Fowler said.
Police Chief John Scholly said, “The school is pretty responsive to fights.
Fields said, “We took care of things internally, talked to the parents and told them to press charges.”
“Three students were placed elsewhere by the court; they are no longer at Wissahickon,” said Fields. She declined to say whether they were expelled.
The fights would start in a large area where there were a lot of students. Rather than “stepping in and saying, ‘knock it off,'” students would stand and watch, said Fields. In the past upper classmen would break up fights, but not this year, said Fields.
“It’s not the 98 percent of the students. It’s happening by some of the same kids over and over. The girls are the toughest," she said.
There are 1,450 kids, and 47 have been dealt with for behavior issues, said Fields. “It’s my job to make sure 98 percent can pursue their academic program,” she said.
Fields decided to video tape a message to students about fighting. She pulled in three assistant principals and Fowler as a team to put students on notice.
In the message that aired during morning announcements Fields said, “This is not who we are.”
Fowler told students, “It is illegal to strike, shove, kick or subject a person to physical contact. If fighting occurs, the school will call police. Fines can reach a maximum of $300 plus court costs.”
Fowler told Patch, “I don’t think kids realized the seriousness of fighting. He added that there will be no warning if students fight and the school calls police. The video message served as a warning, he said.
“It seemed to have worked. We have not been called for two to three weeks,” Fowler said.
“It was good for Ms. Fields to put the video message together,” he said.
Student representative Gordon Ramsey reported to the school board on Nov. 14, "Ms. Fields has been making great strides in reducing these incidents at the high school. Wissahickon will become a safer and better place to learn."
Fields said Thomas Speakman, vice principal, talked separately with seniors about being role models.
She said a number of groups are addressing how to understand differences. Celebrating All Student Achievement (CASA) held a forum, “No Place for Hate,” that 30 students attended.
Cultural differences are highlighted by CASA. In December Indian students will share about their culture. Asian students are slated to share later in the school year, Fields said.
Student council, homeroom representatives and the Parent-Teacher Council are also promoting understanding, said Fields. She added a there may also be a parents forum on the issue.
Some WHS students have tracked with Fields from Blue Bell Elementary or Stony Creek Elementary Schools, to the middle school, to WHS where she became principal in September 2010. Her message remains the same as her Stony Creek motto: “Give Respect to Get Respect.”