Gangs part of after-school incident
Over 30 students returned to school on Jan 31 after serving suspensions for their involvement in a series of altercations that took place off of school grounds earlier that month. According to Blair administrators, the incidents involved some students believed to be associated with gangs and were among the largest-scale in recent Blair history.
"In all of my years at Blair, I had never suspended as many students for one incident," said Assistant Principal Patricia Hurley.
The largest altercation in the series occurred near Long Branch Community Center shortly after classes ended on Jan 9, according to Hurley. Principal Phillip Gainous said that students fought using sticks, pipes and bottles and that "a number of people" reported seeing a gun, although it was not used. Police were called in and broke up the fight.
The incident attracted a large crowd, according to Assistant Principal Linda Wolf. "We had reports of over 100 [people] being there, mostly Blair students," she said. Hurley emphasized that many of the people in the crowd were not involved in the fighting, but had come to watch.
Hurley said that the conflict was not between two well-established gangs, as had been initially feared by Blair administrators. However, she said that the presence of a "core group" of gang-involved students in one of the parties increased the severity of the fights.
According to Gainous, the magnitude of the incidents was surprising because gang activity at Blair has declined noticeably during the past decade. "We really haven't had gang activity associated with the school since the eighties," he said. "It's pretty scary."
Fifty-one percent of Blair students know someone in a gang, according to an informal survey of 100 students conducted on Feb 6.
Gainous said that two groups of people were involved—a group of primarily Hispanic freshmen and a group of primarily Asian upperclassmen. However, both Gainous and Wolf stressed that the fights were not racially motivated.
Instead, the conflict developed after one student's house was egged because the student made derogatory comments about another. Starting on Jan 7, a series of incidents broke out off of school grounds and steadily escalated until the Jan 9 incident.
Police are investigating some aspects of the fights, according to police officer Paul Liquorie. He declined to say if any students could be arrested.
After meeting with some of the suspended students and their parents, Gainous said he doubts such serious incidents will occur again in the near future. "My message to them was the same as it was in the eighties—if you're going to bring gang activity into the school community, I'm not going to allow that. It's just potentially too dangerous," he said. The students were threatened with expulsion if they continue their activities.
On Jan 18, Blair gave 38 students four-day suspensions, effective Jan 22, for their involvement in the incidents. "They were suspended because they were either directly involved in the fights or went with the intention of helping their friends if necessary," said Hurley. Normally, the suspensions would have been ten days, but they were shortened because they occurred over exam week, according to Wolf.
The administration chose to excuse suspended students from exams, a decision which Hurley defended. She said the administration wanted to remove the students from school in order to prevent a recurrence of violence and that having the 38 students make up their exams would not have been feasible.
The administration claimed authority to discipline the students because the students' actions, although off of school grounds, occurred during school hours. According to Gainous, school hours only end after a student arrives home from school.
Additional reporting by Liam Bowen
Kang-Xing Jin. Kang-Xing ("Mr. K") Jin is a senior in the Blair magnet program. His first name is pronounced exactly like it is spelled--"consin," as in the last two syllables of Wisconsin, where he was born. This year, he is co-managing news editor of Chips. Besides journalism, ... More »