More than a hundred concerned Zachary High parents filled the Performing Arts Center at ZHS for a town hall meeting Monday night. The meeting, that started at 6 pm and went till 8:30 pm, was hosted by the Superintendent, Scott Devillier, and ZHS principal Tim Jordan, as they were met with a barrage of questions and comments from parents and teachers regarding the uptick of fighting incidents at the school.
After the panel showed the parents their presentation for over an hour, the parents, educators and everyone else in the audience had the floor for any questions or concerns.
Many parents asked what the school was doing to ensure their children’s safety, while some added their kids are afraid to go to the campus anymore. Others questioned the school discipline policy asking why some students (athletes) are given preferential treatment when they are caught fighting on campus while other kids get suspended for minor infractions compared to violent acts on campus.
The panel members denied any special treatment of student athletes when it pertains to rule violations and fighting. They stated everyone is held to the same standard and will receive the same punishments as the state law and school policy dictates in the handbook.
There was a wave of disagreement by the parents in the crowd.
Some spoke out from their seats, outraged, in response to that statement saying that was not true and they know of students who have remained at school after multiple incidents. They added those students were allowed to continue to participate in their regular sports activities.
The school leaders vehemently denied the allegations and tried to explain the breakdown of how incidents are punished and to what degree based on the guidelines outlined in the student handbook and state law.
Once Devillier gave some very poignant examples and “what if this was your child” anecdotes, he described a hypothetical scenario of a fight situation and that seemed to resonate with some parents, but not all as they came back time and time again with the same statements and questions. He tried to make it clear that the school does in fact take all violent incidents very seriously and that each and every one of the incidents that is brought to their attention is fully investigated by talking to witnesses and pulling all video footage. They currently have 170 high tech cameras placed throughout the ZHS campus that covers the entire school property.
One parent fired off a list of questions, concerns and statements for the panel to address.
Each question was addressed individually by the panel members but according to the reaction of the parents in the seats, the answers were not satisfactory.
That led to questions and heated comments toward the panel as parents expressed their fears, their children’s fears and their distrust of the current ZHS administration.
Many parents brought up specific incidents but the panel, by law, was not allowed to reveal any specifics to ensure the privacy of the minor children.
The parents stated they did not believe or trust the school administration to be fair when it comes to deciding the punishments for violent incidents at the school and they demanded answers. Devillier and Jordan tried to explain that fighting, by definition described in the student handbook, has multiple levels that dictate the punishments. For instance if a fight does not impede traffic be it in the hallways or parking lot, then it is only a minimum suspension of three to nine days. This is also explained in the student handbook. The parents feel that fighting is fighting and should be dealt with as such.
Devillier explained that every fight will not end up in an automatic arrest of both students because they are obligated to investigate each incident. Jordan spoke about how he and his staff, including the resource officers, are always present around campus and make every effort to ensure safety and thwart ill intentions of violence on campus as well as bullying and other rule violations. He stated teachers are monitoring the hallways but not expected to break up fights. Coaches, administrators and the resource officers are there in the event a fight needs to be broken up on school grounds.
The overwhelming tone from the parents was that they want the violence on campus to stop and are angry that their children are afraid to go to school. The school acknowledged that in the month of October, there has been an uptick of fighting on campus, but that overall the statistics are lower than that of previous years.
With the recent fighting recorded and uploaded to social media recently, it has caused great concern for the parents as well as the school administrators. Now that it has been publicized & brought to light, school leaders said more efforts will be put forth to make sure all ZHS students are safe on the campus. The panel expressed that overall, Zachary High School is a safe environment and that 98% of the students are doing the right thing while at school. The 2% of the school population have been in the public eye for fights that have been blasted over social media. That may be cause for alarm, but is not a true representation of Zachary High school and the overall actions of the students who attend there.
One father stood up and spoke about how his daughter wanted to go back to virtual school because she did not feel safe on the school campus. Another father stated that his child wanted to leave the Zachary school district altogether while another parent accused some of the school board members of not having enough confidence in their own school system to send their own children to school in the very district they represent.
Another issue that was brought to the panel is students not living in the district but attending ZHS and other Zachary schools within the district. “This is a problem that needs to be addressed as well”, said one father who was upset that many students are slipping through the cracks and coming to their district without a legitimate Zachary home address. The panel stated they have measures in place to investigate and check for fraudulent addresses and students attending school in Zachary school district who live outside of the area.
The subject of bullying was mentioned many times by the parents. McDonald addressed this issue stating that often times bullying starts outside of the school and on social media. He also told parents about a program that picks up key words on school emails that sends messages to the school board and school staff to be investigated and addressed. He expressed that it is important to talk to the kids and monitor what is going on with them on their social media accounts and texts.
One parent spoke up and made a point that the people who showed up to the town hall meeting are the parents that have been involved with their kids and she was disappointed in the turnout considering how many children attend ZHS. The question remains, according to her, how do they get the other parents to be more involved and engaged?
As things heated up during the community input, the panel remained calm and professional while trying to address each parent’s concerns. The panel was definitely put in the hot seat as parents continued to make their voices heard and point out things that need to change immediately regarding review and revision of disciplinary policies pertaining to school violence.
They want assurances of their students safety on and off campus and more efforts to keep suspended and expelled students off of campus during after-school events.
Henry spoke to the parents about student relations, emotional and social wellness. She told them of the in-school counseling and mentoring programs offered to the students and encouraged the parents to ask their children to get involved.
One former ZHS student, Bria Hitchens, now attending LSU, spoke to the panel about a mentorship program she created at LSU for students called the Minority Physician Assistant Club. This club offers young students a peer group to help navigate scholastic goals and life challenges. Hitchens offered to bring her club to ZHS to work with their students in an effort to help combat many of the issues facing young students today. The panel agreed to entertain the possibility.
Tuesday night is a regularly scheduled School Board meeting in Zachary. That meeting is open to the public.