Educators say cellphone videos of fights are a disruption for schools

Superintendent Jeff Dosier

Belleville, IL, High School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier comments on fight at Belleville West High School. He encourages students to leave a fight scene to allow staff to break it up and to seek nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts.
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Belleville, IL, High School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier comments on fight at Belleville West High School. He encourages students to leave a fight scene to allow staff to break it up and to seek nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts.

When a fight breaks out in a school these days, teachers and administrators have to deal with fallout their predecessors did not face: the prevalence of cellphone videos of the fight posted online on social media.

“The ones that we know about are the ones that are put out on social media that cause a huge disruption,” said Belleville High School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier.

“That kind of stuff that’s put out on social media can be, of course, very disruptive. So oftentimes, it’s not so much capturing the video as what the student does with it.”

Dosier, whose district includes Belleville West and Belleville East high schools, had to oversee the district’s response to a fight on April 10 in Belleville West cafeteria, where a large number of students had congregated shortly before classes began. Belleville police officers were called at 8:23 a.m. and they took four students into custody. One of the students was charged with aggravated battery on a school employee in juvenile court.

Bystanders took videos of the melee and some of the footage was released to the BND by a parent.

“As the staff was trying to break that situation up, some other students gathered around to watch or gawk at the spectacle of what was going on,” Dosier said.

“There were quite a few students, approximately 20 to 25 students who gathered around and watched the fight between the two students and that always creates a situation that makes it more difficult to break a fight up,” Dosier said. “That’s why we always encourage students to leave the area so the staff can do their job to break up a fight.”

Dosier said the students who videoed the April 10 scene did not get disciplined but students previously have been disciplined for posting inappropriate content on social media.

Jeremy Housewright, a teacher at Ritenour High School in St. Louis County, said students videoing fights is “definitely a concern” for educators.

Housewright, who teaches media classes at Ritenour and wrote his doctoral thesis on teachers’ views on the ethical use of social media in the classroom, criticized the parent who released the video to the BND. The parent has declined to be interviewed.

“I’ve talked to my students before that it’s ridiculous when there’s a fight, more students come running toward it than running from it,” Housewright said. “...I think that’s just the society we’re in now with the whole TMZ era. Everybody wants to be that person who has that footage. I think that’s what it comes down to.

“It’s a shame that students don’t pull out their phone and record positive things but then they wait until a melee or a fight breaks out to pull out the phone.”

Cellphone policy

The District 201 cellphone policy forbids students from using a cellphone or other electronic device “in any manner that disrupts the educational environment or violates the rights of others…”

A student’s device must be kept “powered-off and out-of-sight during the regular school day” unless the student has permission or it is “needed in an emergency that threatens the safety of students, staff or other individuals.”

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois, said he could not comment on a specific incident but, generally speaking, said his organization recognizes “that schools can regulate the use of cellphones inside the school but their rules around that really have to be clear and objective and they have to be applied to everyone.

“What they can’t do is regulate the content of the speech at school including the content of a photo or video unless that’s likely to cause a substantial disturbance,” Yohnka said.

These videos provided to the BND by the parent of a Belleville West student show part of the fight that drew multiple police officers to the school April 10, 2019. The BND is publishing this video to show readers what happened during the fight.

Video impact

Fight videos being posted online “probably does encourage” people to post other videos, Dosier said.

“In some different crimes, I know that there’s always been a debate about whether or not to name names,” he said. “So in other words, you’re making that person more famous by using their name. So there probably is some aspect to that. I think … posting things on social media is what gets all of the plays.

“I think they would be filmed anywhere they fight,” Dosier said. “I don’t like posting the fights anywhere because I think it does bring that aspect into play. I think some kids fight at school because they know that it’s there staff that will break it up.”

“I’ve heard the criticism that we shouldn’t press charges if kids fight at school but we don’t want anyone to have the perception that there’s any safe place to fight.”

Housewright noted that a students in a fight video that goes online “could ruin their chances of getting” into a college if officials at the college see the video.

“I talk to my kids about this all the time, you really need to think before you post things. A lot of times these kids don’t do that,” Housewright said.

Preventing fights

Dosier’s advice to students is to clear out of the area when a fight breaks and let the staff handle it.

“It’s the same thing their parents say,” Dosier said. “Get out of there. If somebody’s doing something they shouldn’t be, you should leave. I’m not sure what the attraction is.”

Dosier said the district has “several different ways that students can use conflict resolution to alleviate problems in the future.”

Along with meeting with administrators and teachers, “They might go to a counselor, a social worker, we even have some peer conflict resolution opportunities,” he said.

“… We do have many opportunities for students to peacefully and nonviolently resolve conflicts and we just encourage everyone to take advantage of that.”

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.