Student Supervision and Space Management

Student Supervision and Space Management – Valuable Tools to Prevent Problems in Schools “Fight Club”

A lot has happened in the past month in school safety, including a situation that received a fair amount of national press coverage a few weeks back.  Media accounts allege that students at Nevada Valley Union High School in Grass Valley, California had been participating in what reporters characterized as a “fight club” for several months.  Allegedly, groups of students would enter an unsecured locker room in the basement of the school, don boxing gloves, and fight one another.  Video segments shown by news outlets depict students boxing while a number of other students observe.

Caution about video footage

According to reporters, parents are upset that this activity has apparently been going on without detection by staff at the school.  I am always cautious about opining on video segments without supportive background information.  I testified in a federal civil action in a case involving an independent boarding school a few years ago.  Videos of students sparring in their dormitory rooms depicted students punching one another in the stomach while other students looked on.  The video footage depicted by the news media initially looked horrific.  However, our video crew was able to locate the original unedited footage on YouTube which revealed that the videos were taken widely out of context and were likely posted as an effort to force the school to settle the suit. This is but one example demonstrating that some videos that are aired on the news are not accurate depictions.

Student supervision and space management

With this caution in mind, I do not have enough information to accurately evaluate how bad the situations depicted in the “fight club” video clips really are.  At the same time, I have a different take on the incident than many people do.  While media accounts focused on the need for students to be informed of the dangers of hitting one another without proper protective headgear, I immediately questioned whether a lack of proper student supervision and space management should be more of a
focus.  The ability of students to gain access to a large space such as a locker room and to repeatedly engage in inappropriate activities has implications far beyond those that are upsetting to many people who have viewed the video clips. Robberies, sexual assaults and deaths have occurred in smaller spaces where adult supervision was lacking.  The concept of space management involves a thoughtful effort to keep certain types of areas in K12 schools secured when they are not occupied by an adult who can supervise and prevent incidents like these.

Case in point – the “sex room” case

I recently finished a civil action in Illinois that involved two high school students who repeatedly engaged in group sex with several young women who were special needs students functioning at the third grade level.  During the criminal investigation and successful prosecution of the two young men, the victims repeatedly referred to the space where the incidents occurred as the “sex room.”  The district spent one million dollars defending against the civil action but once they passed this self-insurance limit, their insurance carrier immediately offered plaintiffs’ counsel a settlement.   Based on what I saw in the case file, it would have been extremely risky for this case to go to a jury trial.

We see so many tragic cases in schools where inadequate student supervision and/or improper space management are a major factor.  Providing clear guidance for staff on simple but effective student supervision practices and the importance of keeping unoccupied spaces locked can help to prevent many school safety incidents.    Effective leadership to make these simple but effective practices consistent realities in a school is one of the best ways to stay out of the news and out of court by preventing a myriad of negative situations.

Link to original news story:
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/02/28/california-hs-probes-video-purported-student-fight-club.html?

Student Supervision

When is it O.K. to Have Sex in K12 Schools?

This unlocked boiler room is the type of location where students sometimes engage in sexual activities.  Space management is an important concept for school officials to use to prevent both consensual sexual encounters and sexual assaults.

This unlocked boiler room is the type of location where students sometimes engage in sexual activities. Space management is an important concept for school officials to use to prevent both consensual sexual encounters and sexual assaults.

Sex in K12 Schools

Kevin Wren is a school safety professional in South Carolina who has attended several of my presentations. He recently sent me a link to a news story involving two New York City school teachers who were allegedly caught having sex in a classroom. Both teachers have been reinstated and will continue to teach in the same school because no students were present in the classroom when the alleged incident took place.

Kevin recalled me asking audiences the important rhetorical question “when is it acceptable for people to have sex in K12 schools?”  This case is an excellent example of why I sometimes have this discussion with audiences when I keynote conferences.

Of Course not!

Obviously the correct answer is that it is never acceptable for people to engage in sex in K12 schools. My follow up question to the audience is “but do people have sex in K12 schools?” The answer to that question is that this occurs far more often than the average person realizes. Whether the sexual acts involve a sexual assault or molestation, consensual acts between students, consensual acts between a student and an employee or as in this recent case, and allegation of consensual sex between adults, sex on K12 campuses are a serious problem.

A Significant and Recurring Problem in Schools

Over the years, there have been too many examples of these types of problems to count. I am currently working as an expert witness on two such cases and have just been asked to review a third case involving an allegation of this type for a law firm that is attempting to determine if they should litigate school officials or not. I have seen many troubling cases of this type covered in the national news including one incident where someone videotaped a school principal having sex with a teacher, posted it on the web, and sent it to school board members. I declined a case where a district was being litigated in federal court which involved seven students having sex with a special needs child for more than one hour. I had been asked to conduct a security assessment for the district in their attempt to address the event. In this particular case, I was approached by both defense and plaintiff’s counsel but I advised them both that I felt there would be a conflict of interest.

Preventing Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct in Schools

This recent school sex scandal demonstrates the need for thoughtfully developed and clearly communicated policies for students and staff that are designed to minimize the opportunities for incidents involving sexual assault and sexual misconduct to occur. The policies can include structured student supervision, requiring employees to keep unattended spaces locked, prohibiting school staff from covering classroom and office windows (with exceptions for emergency situations such as lockdown), and guidance on staff and students being alone in private areas.

While no measures are foolproof, implementing, communicating and enforcing appropriate practices can help to prevent these types of incidents as well as to make it easier to respond to them more effectively should an incident occur.

Allegations of Student Being Strip-Searched by Assistant Principal Demonstrate the Importance of Proper Communications of Student Search Guidelines for Student Searches

Parents of a 10-year-old boy who was allegedly strip-searched by a North Carolina elementary school assistant principal have filed a lawsuit against school officials.  The parents of Justin Cox are alleging that Assistant Principal Teresa Holmes, an administrator at Union Elementary School in Sampson County, North Carolina conducted a strip search of their son while looking for a missing $20 dollar bill.

Having served as an expert witness consultant in a federal civil action where the plaintiff’s alleged that a strip search had occurred, I suggest caution in jumping to conclusions for these types of situations if the facts of the search are not known.  In the above mentioned case, it was clear that the student had not actually been asked to remove any clothing but plaintiff’s counsel described the event as a “strip search”.

Civil actions against school officials relating to allegations of strip searches and other types of intrusive searches are relatively common.  Cases that do not conduct searches that do not involve drugs or weapons as alleged in this instance can be particularly problematic if and when a strip search has actually been performed.  Unfortunately, unlawful searches of students do occur.  The likelihood that these types of situations will occur can be reduced through careful policy development and effective staff development.  This particular area of staff development is challenging because the law changes often.  Fortunately, there are a number of superb trainers in this area such as Dr. Bernie James and Dr. Gary Avery.  I have often advised client districts that the cost of hiring nationally experienced experts like those mentioned to help evaluate policies and to provide training is inexpensive in relation to the impact of a successful civil action or worse, the occurrence of preventable deaths because a lawful search for weapons is not conducted due to a lack of familiarity with laws on search and seizure.

As I mention earlier, it is impossible to tell from a media account whether anything improper occurred.  However, the civil action is a good reminder that school search and seizure is an important topic and that school officials should be provided timely and relevant information on the subject.