Curbing rise in fights at Mississippi high school has become big concern for school district

Published 5:40 am Friday, May 24, 2024

A rise in fights at a Mississippi high school has led to changes in policy that officials hope will curb the violence that has become a nig concern for teachers and staff.

After more than 150 disciplinary referrals at the Natchez High School last month and an increase in student fights, the Natchez Adams School District is considering changes to its disciplinary policy.

The high school of 635 students had 151 disciplinary referrals in the month of April; 64 in March; 167 in February; and 105 in January, according to a monthly data report delivered by Principal Angela Reynolds at Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez Adams School District Board of Trustees.

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In many cases, the problems that start the fights happen outside of school, Reynolds said. “When things happen in a community, they start bringing it to school,” she said.

Central in the revision is extending the punishment for a first offense from nine days suspension and possible placement in the alternative school to automatic placement at the alternative school for 30 days. A second referral would result in 45 days in the alternative school or a recommendation for expulsion.

Under the current discipline matrix, fights are considered a Level 3 offense, along with frequent bullying, excessive detentions, gambling, smoking tobacco or vaping on campus and vandalism, among others. A first or second offense results in one to five days of out-of-school suspension and a parent or guardian conference. Suspensions increase with each offense until the fifth, at which time a parent conference and 45 days in the alternative school are invoked.

That policy has proved less than effective, an issue compounded by staffing shortages at the alternative school. “It caused students to come back sooner or they didn’t get as much time. Then we noticed the fights increasing,” Reynolds said.

In an attempt to curb fighting, Reynolds said administrators reverted to a previous policy which included an automatic 30-day assignment to an alternative school for fighting and similar offenses.  “When we quickly announced that the 30 days were back in place, they stopped fighting on campus,” she said.

Staffing challenges at the alternative school resulted in its inability to handle the students assigned there.

The school district is working on a new plan for alternative placement after the school board decided in March not to renew the existing contract with the Ombudsman Alternative School program for the upcoming school year as it stands. The current contract lasts through the end of the school year.

In discussing the issue, Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green said Reynolds and her staff have been proactive in trying to resolve fighting and other discipline issues on the Natchez High campus. Earlier this year, a series of stakeholder forums revealed that discipline is high on the list of teacher concerns.

Students and their parents or guardians are asked to sign and return a copy of the school’s discipline policy at the start of the new school year. The policy is also reviewed with parents and guardians and their children during orientation before school starts.

“Reynolds and her staff have worked very hard to support our students with their social skills and their conflict resolution skills” and have seen the positive effects of that and plan to start incorporating those skill-building sessions earlier in the school year,” Green said. “So that way, we are being proactive and not reactive.”

School Board Member Diane Bunch asked if students should be made to sign a “code of honor” to add a layer of citizenship, school pride and responsibility on top of simply giving students the rules and their consequences. 

“If we can just up our game a little bit to say ‘This is a new high school, this is your community and this is going to follow you for the rest of your life. Have some pride in what you do,’” Bunch said.

The suggested revisions to the policy were taken under advisement by the school board and no actions on that matter were taken during Tuesday’s board meeting.