School fights fuel crime surge

Zero-tolerance policy

January 24, 2007 at 11:40 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Scuffles skew the figures, make parish look more violent than it really is.

School fights are partially to blame for the increase in crime reported throughout St. Charles Parish in 2006, with on-campus scuffling adding 1.18 percent to the 4.7 percent spike, Sheriff Greg Champagne reports.

According to statistics released by the sheriff’s office just days ago, crime overall increased just 3.7 percent for the year if school fights aren’t figured into the total.
And even though incidences of fighting on campuses were up in 2006, school officials say they are confident the situation is under control.

A “zero tolerance” policy for fighting ensures that whenever one student strikes another, police will be involved, and a report filed.

That doesn’t necessarily look good on paper - but officials believe the aggressive response, in the long run, keeps violence down.

“The number of fights in the middle schools is where I have noticed the biggest increase,” Lt. Warren LeBouef, supervisor of the parish’s violence prevention program and the resource (police) officer at  Destrehan High School, tells the Herald-Guide.

“I’m seeing a lot of negative attitudes in some of these children, it’s as if they don’t care and things they are experiencing at home adds to this problem.”Sheriff’s Capt. Patrick Yoes agrees that an increase in fighting among juveniles in schools has pushed up the crime rate.

But he says there are resource officers like LeBouef on duty at every middle and high school in the parish.

“Our schools have a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ for fighting, which means if students are caught fighting, the resource officer  will arrest them immediately if an investigation conducted by the principal determines that blows were exchanged,” Yoes says.

Rochelle Cancienne, director of public relations for the St. Charles Parish school board, says while there have been an increase in fights in some schools, the   numbers don’t reflect the situation in all schools.

 “If you think about the total number of schools that are in our district and the number of students in each school our parish is doing well,” Cancienne says.

LeBouef has noticed that high school students seem to fight more often at the beginning of the school year.
“When school starts  the students seem to be fighting more because some kids don’t want to be here, and they are frustrated,” LeBouef says.

“They have a chip on their shoulder  when they get here. They have an agenda, and the agenda is not to get an education.”

LeBouef says there are six schools in the parish that participate in the violence prevention program.
“If students are caught fighting, all of them, no matter what age group, are put in a anger-management program,” he continues.

“If they are 17 or older, they are treated as adults according to the laws in this state, and we put them in the jail.

“If they are younger, they are picked up by our special services unit. We notify a parent to come get them.”
LeBeouf says the violence  prevention program has been in place since 1994 but it could stand to be updated.

“The schools of today are not the schools of 12 years ago,”  he continues.

“We need new programs that fit the problems that are going on in today’s classrooms.”

LeBouef says parents have to pay a $250 fine once students are arrested, and after completing the violence prevention program and community service, $150  of the money is returned.

Yvonne Gaspard, director of special programs for St. Charles Parish Schools and a licensed counselor, says the violence prevention program “takes a proactive approach to violence” and has yielded as much as an 83 percent reduction in incidents of fighting.

She believes parental support is essential.

“We involve parents, because we want them to be able to have better skills when it comes to disciplining their chidren at home,” Gaspard says.

“I teach them anger management to help them better handle the teens at home. We help the children deal with their problems through various other activities.”

Gaspard says she accompanies parents and the children involved in school fights when they appear before a judge at the completion of the violence prevention program.

“Some parents are supportive and go through our program, and I let the judge know which ones did,”  she says.

“And when they and their children  appear before the judge in  his chambers, they both get an opportunity to tell him or her what they’ve learned,” Gaspard says.

LeBouef says more needs to be done to to help children who fight.

“We need something like an alternative school to help keep these kids on the right path while preventing them from being disruptive and hurting the classroom experience for those kids who really want to be in school,” LeBouef says.

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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