More than a week of fights videotaped on public school campuses peaked Thursday with the lockdown of Charlotte Amalie High School and the arrest of three students – all minors – at the St. Croix Educational Complex. Police refuted reports that a parent had also been arrested, saying they had instead been detained and escorted off-site.
CAHS was reopened before noon Thursday after school monitors and administrators searched students’ backpacks and bags following reports of a threat made the night before. Where the reports originated isn’t clear, but V.I. Police Department officials said it was widespread enough to have evoked fear in other students, who videotaped themselves saying they didn’t want to come to school the next day at the risk of being shot.
Education officials also said that the CAHS administration remained on high alert Wednesday night through Thursday, as the threat circulated over social media, and requested the presence of VIPD on patrol and at the gate while the campus was locked down until 10 a.m.
Knives and other contraband were confiscated as a result of the search, and Police Commissioner Ray Martinez said that the threat, though still unconfirmed, was taken seriously in the wake of other student arrests made on St. Thomas over the past week. Increased police presence will continue at CAHS and other school campuses as a safeguard, he added.
Meanwhile, videos circulated Thursday of another fight at Complex on St. Croix, which resulted in the arrest of three minors – two males and a female in the ninth and tenth grades. The students were charged with simple assault and battery, along with disturbance of the peace, according to police.
What’s fueling the fights is the subject of speculation, though VIPD said that in the break from in-person classes, there were back-and-forths between students that escalated once they came in close proximity to one another on campus.
“Fights between different groups is what we are seeing,” Martinez said. “These are issues that started last year, and while things may have been quiet over the summer, with the students back in school, things have begun to escalate as they are near one another.”
Education officials held a virtual town hall Wednesday night as a video began circulating from another fight on St. Croix, where a school monitor was trying to subdue a crowd of students that clamored around him, throwing punches at one another.
Education Commissioner Nominee Dionne Wells Hedrington said walk-throughs of the schools were conducted to see what safety holes can be filled and stressed the importance of families in being a partner in continuing to talk to the students about anger management and conflict resolution.
Superintendents are also looking at smaller measures that can make a bigger impact, including preventing loitering at nearby areas off-campus, such as Barbel Plaza near CAHS. Students are also asked not to wear bulky jackets to school that hide backpacks or even faces or are able to conceal weapons.
Looking at the social and emotional health of students, particularly after a two-year respite from socializing together on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has also been a priority, according to St. Thomas-St. John Insular Superintendent Stefan Jürgen. With federal funds, the department has been able to hire student success specialists that can work closely with guidance counselors and, for the first time, many schools also have deans of students who can offer more one-on-one attention.
Larger blocks of 90 minutes within the school day have been cut down to four 75-minute blocks, with a fifth 45-minute block added for counselors to work with students on shoring up academic deficiencies and engaging them in specialized activities. A program manager for social and emotional learning has also been hired, according to Jürgen.