A fight that erupted at a football game between Kenmore and East high schools in November has become the subject of another grievance by the teachers union, alleging that administrators are allowing students back into the schools who pose a threat to staff and other students.
The melee allegedly involved a mother smacking a doctor and coach with an umbrella, a player punching the same doctor and a coach, and 100 to 125 people joining the fray.
The grievance was filed by the teachers union last month and comes as Kenmore High deals with a gang fight April 11 that has resulted in the arrest of 26 people, half charged with rioting and one charged with assaulting a staff member. Last school year, the district issued discipline more frequently than all but six Ohio school districts and 22 charter schools.
Teachers and administrators, long in agreement on discipline policies, have parted ways recently as the district attempts to keep more students in school. The other option, kicking students out of school, could result in families taking the school to court, where legal costs would fall on the taxpayer-funded school and not the union.
Students successfully have appealed at least three other incidents involving alleged weapons and assaults on teachers in the past year. Teachers have filed grievances in each of these cases.
The first two incidents, involving a student with a box cutter and three elementary students who brought BB guns to school, were grieved jointly. An arbitrator sided with the administration’s decision to overturn, or shorten, the expulsions. The students were given 10-day suspensions and returned to their respective schools.
The incident at the November football game, according to a police report, started when two opposing players argued, then fought. Each was taken to his respective sideline when a Kenmore player began screaming at East’s football team.
A physician for Kenmore’s football program attempted to restrain the rowdy player, who wriggled free as his mother apparently clubbed the doctor with an umbrella. Moments later, the boy, 17, was tackled by a police officer.
As the boy’s mother went after the police officer, another Kenmore coach intervened and was struck “with the umbrella, which is now bent,” a police report read.
At that time, another Kenmore player encouraged his siblings to join the brawl. During the chaos, players swung fists and helmets, one of which struck a woman in the stands.
The teams were separated. East players boarded a bus, and Kenmore players were escorted into a locker room where the 17-year-old then struck an assistant coach, according to police.
In all, seven Kenmore players were charged, six of them arrested that day. Among those arrested was the player who allegedly started the brawl by yelling at the other team. The Beacon Journal did not name the players involved because they were juveniles, and the charges were minor. There is no record of the mother being charged.
The rowdy student was convicted in Summit County Juvenile Court, according to records. Kenmore Principal Ginelle Rasnick recommended the student for expulsion. An administrative review affirmed that recommendation.
However, the decision was appealed, overturned by a hearing officer and the student returned to Kenmore High.
The assistant football coach argues that he was never consulted before the hearing officer decided to shorten the student’s punishment. District administrators privy to the appeal hearing were not available Monday.
In an April 9 letter to the school board, the union stated its intent to pursue arbitration. This will be the second grievance that could again require a third party to sort out a disagreement over student discipline after decades of amicable settlements between administrators and the Akron Education Association.
School climate heating up
The incident hints at larger issues of school climate and student discipline, even among administrators.
In an email responding to the expelled student’s successful appeal, Rasnick wrote of the football player’s return to school: “I am concerned about [him] returning to Kenmore and what it will do to the climate in my building for both staff and students.”
Because Akron has one of the highest discipline rates, there has been a re-examination of zero-tolerance policies. Meanwhile, the AEA is increasingly pressing administrators to transfer students and follow through with recommendations to expel those who assault their members or other students.
The district has sought to maintain alternative programs that allow students to serve suspension and expulsion in school.
“We are always looking for more alternative programs, especially for suspensions, so we can impact students’ behavior to avoid additional consequences later on,” said Dan Rambler, director of Student Support Services.
“It’s not enough,” argued Mike Freeman, councilman for the Akron ward surrounding Kenmore.
“I have pretty strong feelings about 5 percent of the population, not just in Kenmore, but in the high schools in general,” said Freeman, who was unaware of the November football brawl. “I think if we could get a special place for 5 percent of them, then teachers could start teaching again.”
Freeman’s strong feelings extended to parents.
“We do have a real problem when it comes to parenting. Children are not designed or born to be wards of the state,” said Freeman, who home-schooled three of his children due to safety concerns.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.