Columbia students face harsher punishments for fighting

Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 6:26 p.m. CDT; updated 8:18 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 30, 2008

COLUMBIA — On Monday, Columbia Public School District and administrators from every junior and senior high school met to discuss a change in guidelines for following the discipline policy, according to Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services.

The changes are a direct result of the increase in violent incidents in Columbia Public Schools, Barnett said

The guidelines were changed before Wednesday, when a fight occurred at Hickman High School during lunch and led to eight arrests, Barnett said. The fight involved seven students. The eighth person arrested, Michael Anderson, 17, was not involved in the fight, police said.

Anderson,who is not a Hickman student, was arrested for trespassing, said Columbia Police Department Sgt. Eric White.

There were five changes to the guidelines for following the discipline policy, which affect students who are directly involved in fights, those that continue to fight after a staff member becomes involved and students who assault or physically endanger a staff member, Barnett said in a news release Thursday.

For example, a student involved in a fight might previously have received a three- to five-days suspension. Under the new guidelines, any student involved in a fight will automatically receive a 10-day out-of-school suspension. Students who endanger or assault a faculty member and repeat offenders may be punished more severely — potentially be suspended for 180 days or an entire school year.

The guidelines also say that students who encourage fighting between others will face punishment.

"We have to stop the mob-type mentality during the fights," Barnett said.

Although the district wants students to know that intervening to attempt to break up a fight is not their role, the new policy does not punish them for such behavior, Barnett said.

White, who is the youth services supervisor for Columbia police, said that students should understand that fighting is not the only choice.

"I hope they (students) find a way to resolve the problems without resorting to violence," White said.

The consequences for involvement in a fight can be found on the Columbia Public Schools Web site and at the SchoolHouse Talk blog.

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