Indianapolis Public Schools is committed to the safety of every student. Student on student violence harms not just the participants but the whole school. It is a complex issue that stretches beyond the walls of the school itself. Consequently, the response to improve student and school safety must be multifaceted, involving not just schools and districts, but families and communities as well. In IPS, we take our role in this difficult issue seriously and are taking steps to ensure safer school environments for everyone.

“We take every altercation seriously,” said IPS Police Chief Steven Garner. He also stated that no matter the situation, safety of our students and staff is of the highest priority.

“We’re not going to get in the middle of fights,” Indianapolis Education Association President Rhondalyn Cornett said in a statement to local media this week. “That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to educate the students. We do what we can to keep everybody safe because that’s our job, too — we understand that — but I’m not going to ask people to injure themselves and put themselves in harm’s way for a fight.”

Accordingly, the Academic Improvement Officers (AIOs) who supervise the three Learning Communities (East, West and Magnet), along with Deputy Superintendent for Operations Scott Martin and Chief Garner, are hosting a safety meeting Monday for all IPS secondary principals. At this meeting, the AIOs will outline a safety standard for all of our middle and high schools. This is just one of the initiatives we’re putting in place to address on-campus student acts of aggression. The following table outlines this and other actions.
As this table implies, treating one part of the problem won’t be enough.

“We have to teach and model ‘Emotional Intelligence’ for our babies. They must understand that a quick 30-second or 2-minute decision can cost a lifetime to salvage. How are we as adults modeling the behavior we want our youth to exemplify?” said Ontay Johnson, Executive Director of 100 Black Men of Indianapolis, Inc. “We are constantly pushing for better grades, better test scores, but what about the concept of self-control and coping skills?”

Johnson also quoted Frederick Douglass by saying, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

The IPS Student Services team has been working hard this spring to draft a districtwide Student Code of Conduct. This all-encompassing document explains the rights and responsibilities of all students and outlines the appropriate corrective measures for student infractions. The goal of the Code of Conduct is to encourage positive behaviors that are safe, respectful and responsible. There will be clear explanations of unacceptable behaviors and the measures administrators are to take in response.

There is even a section in the Code of Conduct that addresses social media and physical altercations. Students are encouraged to exhibit responsible behavior in this area; posting fight videos on social media could result in suspension under the upcoming Code of Conduct.

“We’re not teaching digital citizenship,” said District Positive Discipline Coordinator Dr. Cynthia Jackson, “and I think as a district we need to explore that. Students need to understand the things they share online can implicate their school and the entire district in a negative light”

Chief Garner said that when it comes to cell phone video and social media, there are some disturbing trends that he cautions our students to avoid. Posting video of a fight on social media is not illegal, but it could lead to legal trouble if those involved were planning the video on purpose.

“If there were suggestion the fight was staged and recorded,” said Chief Garner, “we could perhaps petition the prosecutor to consider a conspiracy to commit battery.” In that case, the photographer could face conspiracy charges as well.

Chief Garner also stressed that video of an incident is not needed to file legal charges, either. Many cases are successfully prosecuted based on witness accounts and other evidence regularly.

Finally, beyond these practical steps, as a district, as a community, we also have to ask ourselves what larger issues are involved here. What is going on in our culture when no one—teachers, witnesses, friends—steps in to help? What does it mean when we feel empowered to film violence but not to help stop it, when our first stop with the video is YouTube and not the authorities? What can we do in our schools, in our homes, in our community to keep students from resorting to violence against each other or to stop online feuds before they spill over into real-life consequences?