Crackdowns on Filming Fights in School Sparks Debate

Videos of fights and brutal beatings between schoolchildren have been cycling through the internet for some time, but one’s principals move to stop filming has spurred fiery debate.

When video of a brawl at a Pembroke Pines high school in West Broward County went viral,  Principal Brad Fatout alerted parents anyone involved could face disciplinary action, including those recording. The logic was that the virality of these videos may have been incentivizing the fighting in the first place and that preventing them could reduce the violent conflict.

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However, the videos have also been used to report incidents and provide evidence to administrators, police, or their parents. The videos that have gone viral have brought national pressure upon schools to amend the issues ever since e beating in New Jersey led a young girl to commit suicide. Given this context, the push to prevent documentation has led some to question whether punishing these students is equivalent to attempting to keep problems at school quiet.

The video of the incident in West Broward shows multiple girls repeatedly striking a victim and a security guard falling down during failed attempts to break it up. In his letter to his parents, Fatout conflated the videotaping of the fight and incitement.

“The recent altercations have all been isolated incidents. The Broward Schools discipline matrix will continue to be followed for all incidents. Furthermore, students who videotape and/or incite a disturbance are also subject to disciplinary consequences. We are actively putting things in place to eliminate this behavior.”

Despite claiming the school would stick to its current disciplinary standards, school policy is mainly silent on recordings. In some cases, it explicitly protects it.

“Students will not be subject to disciplinary action for the use of wireless communication devices when used to report a potentially dangerous situation that compromises the safety of students, staff or property. In such an event, any recordation/ information shall be shared with administrative staff as soon as possible.”

All the policy says on limiting recording is that it cannot be misused or in ways “disrupts the educational environment or interferes with the safety of students, staff or property.” This standard only applies to fight filming if one subscribes to the idea that the filming causes violence.

However, in a seemingly contradictory fashion, district spokeswoman Keyla Concepcio defended proper use and argued videos of suspicious activity – like fighting – qualified.

“As the principal shared in his message, the issue is when it is used to incite and encourage disruptive behavior. Proper use is encouraged. The District promotes to all students, ‘If You See Something, Say Something,’ which asks for the submission of tips — including videos, pictures and information — to report suspicious activity.”

One school Board member Torey Alston, whose district includes West Broward High, voiced his concern about how the video could enhance bullying.

“Clearly, if footage is used on social media for bullying this is absolutely unacceptable and I support discipline.”

However, echoing both sides of the debate, he tempered this position with some support for the recording while also floating the notion that phones shouldn’t be allowed at all but for other reasons.

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“This topic blends personal rights, safety/security, and transparency. Since cellphones are allowed in our schools, I believe the policy should be reviewed by the board. … I will be seeking feedback from our attorneys, as we explore the student code of conduct coming up in a few weeks.”

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