District Ponders Expelling Students Involved in CAHS Fight

School officials will decide soon whether to expel more than 12 students for their involvement in a May 24 fight that escalated into a much larger confrontation and ultimately resulted in two girls being stabbed at Charlotte Amalie High School.

School officials held disciplinary hearings Thursday at the Curriculum Center, where students and faculty gave their accounts of a fight between two females and one male student and a subsequent larger fight involving several students that stemmed from the initial altercation, Education Department spokeswoman Ananta Pancham said. Officials close to the investigation said the larger fight was instigated in part from a long-simmering feud between students from different areas, including Altona and the Round De Field neighborhood in Hospital Ground.

The school year ends June 19, so the decision will be made as soon as possible, Pancham said. The June 6 hearings began in the afternoon and stretched past 9 p.m.

The fight began around noon on the eastern part of the campus near Building B, Pancham said. The conflict started as an argument between a 17-year-old male student and two 15 and 16-year-old female students. But it quickly spiraled into a physical altercation with the male student stabbing the female students while struggling with them on the ground.

The initial confrontation escalated into an ensuing brawl where students began fighting each other while stomping and kicking other students on the ground. The school monitors broke up the fight and the two female victims were rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

Students involved in any of the skirmishes resulting from the fight face possible expulsion.

Deputy Superintendent Michael Harrigan coordinated the hearings while recording testimony from students and faculty. His report will include his recommendation of which students should or should not be expelled or face other disciplinary measures.

Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry told the group of parents her decision will come after she reviews Harrigan’s report.

The school has video footage of the incident but it will not be used in the report to Smith-Barry, Pancham said.

The district holds school hearings for disciplinary review. If a recommendation of expulsion is received it holds district hearings. After the district hearings the administrative officer makes his or her recommendation. The insular superintendent reviews the recommendation and offers approval or disapproval.

The final review rests with acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory, Pancham said.

During the hearing process students and families can bring legal representation with them into the hearings as well as call witnesses. Students may appeal each decision and continue to utilize the appellate process as they see fit.

Parents complained they were given inadequate notice about the Thursday’s disciplinary hearing, some claiming they were told the night before. Other parents complained they were given notices about an informal “parental conference” May 31 but this meeting was actually an administrative hearing, which is another step towards possible expulsion.

Administrative hearings are part of district protocol and are usually held soon after a fight or similar incident, Pancham said. The fight and subsequent stabbings happened the Friday before Memorial Day, so school officials scheduled the hearing the following Friday.

Principal Carmen Howell would not officially comment on details of the hearing because of school policy to protect the confidentiality of students, but emphasized the school gave proper notification to all students and their families about the timing and seriousness of the hearing. School administrators are following board of education guidelines, Howell said.

The disciplinary hearing was a fact-finding process that included Harrigan, Howell and assistant CAHS Principals Alcede Edwards, Stefan Jurgen and Erma Skelton. Students, along with their parents, were questioned about what they saw and what their involvement was in the initial fight May 24 and the larger fight that developed afterwards, Pancham said. School officials said the school monitors were given a “code yellow” and quickly broke up the fight after it started.

Any assault or violence perpetrated with a weapon is termed a Level 4 offense in the school district’s discipline policy and is punishable by expulsion, Pancham said. Any disruptive behavior that results in personal injury or threatens the welfare of students can lead to a suspension of up to 10 days, according to the student handbook. Fighting is a mandatory 10-day suspension.

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