MINNEAPOLIS – Safety concerns arise as violence continues to escalate at Southwest High School.
On top of an already failing administration, Southwest High School staff are struggling to maintain peace between students. Last Friday, March 2, multiple fights broke out during the school’s second lunch period. Despite attempts to sweep the issue under the rug and downplay the violence, persistent students and parents forced the administration to address the situation.
Videos of the fight posted online forced the administration to hold an emergency meeting.
The highly anticipated fight between two students who have been off-and-on friends for years became physical during lunch last Friday. According to school officials, they knew of the impending conflict at least a week prior. The day of the incident, the administration claims that they reached out to the students “every hour” before the fight broke out. Unfortunately, the efforts were not successful and the violence erupted anyway.
The fight was not limited to the two students, who were reported by classmates to be a Somali-American and an African American. Over 20 students joined the chaos soon after the first punches were thrown and the original videos that surfaced were titled “Somalis vs. Blacks.” The original videos have been taken down due to pressure from school administration. The school’s resource officer was present in the cafeteria. In an attempt to control the situation, school officials put the cafeteria into lockdown for 15 minutes after the allotted 30-minute lunch period, keeping any students from leaving or entering, including the ones not involved. All staff members that were not otherwise occupied were called to action.
The police were not called, but 15 student resource officers from other schools were called for backup. In an eyewitness video taken by a student, the administration’s inability to diffuse the skirmish in a timely, appropriate, and safe manner was made clear.
As punishment for the students’ actions, hall passes were banned for the rest of the week, bathrooms were locked, staff “runners” were ushering students to the bathroom during class and the upcoming pep-fest was canceled. Many students are frustrated that everyone in the school is being punished for the actions of a few. The teachers and administration refuse to discuss students’ concerns over the incident even if they no longer feel safe at school.
On Thursday, March 8, the Southwest Community meeting, originally planned to focus around other issues at the school, was refocused to address Southwest’s culture. Approximately 250 students, parents, staff and concerned members of the community attended the meeting held by Minneapolis Public Schools district administration.
To start the meeting off, the area superintendent, Carla Steinbach, introduced herself and the goals of the meeting.
“We have to be okay with non-closure because tonight might be the first of many meetings. I’m hoping it is actually, it could be an opportunity,” Steinbach said.
The superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, Ed Graff, was not present at the meeting Thursday night. Tara Fitzgerald, the assistant principal of Southwest explained the situation.
“During the middle of B-lunch, we have three lunches--A, B, and Ca fight broke out between two students. Specifically, two at the far end of the lunchroom and as they started fighting, other students got into the fight to support their friends in that fight. Staff was present throughout the entire lunch,” Fitzgerald said.
Many parents voiced their opinions on how the situation was handled.
“[My daughter] does not feel safe at school right now, and canceling the pep-fest, not having passes, and sitting at lunch are not long-term solutions and it is not fair to the vast majority of students who are doing their jobs,” one mother said.
All of the speakers from the school district were quick to dismiss any assumptions that the altercation was racially motivated. Many parents disagreed with the school staff due to video evidence and reports from their children.
Although problems with racial tensions were denied, the speakers continued focus on the issue of race. The tone remained the same for the rest of the meeting. There were no concrete answers and the only solutions offered other than punitive actions imposed on the entire student body were “restorative practices” instead of consequences directed at the two perpetrators.