When school fights land on YouTube


Darin King,14, gets an impromptu hug from his mother, Vicki, at home in Chesapeake Beach. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Two boys are fighting in a Calvert County middle school. A crowd of students laugh and jeer until a teacher arrives to break it up. Later discipline is meted out.

But the fight is not nearly over.

A video goes up on YouTube — 32 seconds of personal humiliation for the boy who is taking most of the punches. He has often been bullied in middle school, according to his family, and now is shown being hit in the head and side and placed in a headlock.

There is no apparent serious injury, and the clip is posted as “Weak People Fighting.”

It is uploaded onto Facebook, tweeted, shared and commented on.

“I showed my dad, he bust out laughin,” one girl writes on Facebook at 5:09 pm.

“I posted it on Twitter,” a boy posts to another Facebook page.

“I just watched it. Hahahahahaha,” another girl adds at 5:23 pm.

“I got it sent to me 5 times,” another student chimes in.

In an era of ubiquitous social networking, adolescent cruelties can be far more lasting.

The fight in the Calvert school stairwell endured for 16 days on YouTube. It was viewed at least 425 times. It was “liked” on Facebook. It was removed from YouTube as The Washington Post made inquiries late last week.

The episode Feb. 8 left 14-year-old Darin King feeling too taunted to continue at Windy Hill Middle School in Owings, his family said. For now, he is being home-schooled. “This took it to a whole new level,” Vicki King said. “This was for the world to see.”

The father of the other boy in the fight said the video embarrassed his son, too. “That’s not something he’s proud of,” said the father, who didn’t want his son identified. But the father pointed out that Darin threw the first punch — which the Kings do not dispute, saying Darin felt pressured and “set up” by classmates.

All of which underlines a central question of the digital age: How much can and should schools do when trouble on campus converges with social networking?

“Schools throughout the country are being overwhelmed with these issues,” said Nancy Willard, director of the nonprofit Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. She said school leaders need training in the dynamics of digital aggression. “Schools mistakenly think simply suspending students is going to solve the problem,” she said.

Calvert officials said they could not talk about the middle school case for privacy reasons, but they said such incidents are investigated and handled according to the student conduct code. Over the years, other school incidents also have been video-recorded by students, said Calvert schools spokeswoman Gail Bennett.

The King family argues that school leaders should be more involved.

Vicki King says she found out about the video nine days after the school knew it had been posted. Her eighth -grade son did not mention it, although he complained of headaches and resisted going to school every day, she said. “I was clueless,” she said.

At first only her son was suspended, for 21 / 2 days, she said. He also was disciplined at home. After the video surfaced, two other students were disciplined in some form, she said she was told.

King said students cheering the fight on or involved in the online video also should face consequences.

“There are too many fragile kids out there, with too many other things going on in their lives,” she said.

School officials called her Feb. 24, she said, to tell her the video had been taken down from YouTube, which the school had requested earlier but had not happened. YouTube has a policy against videos showing someone getting hurt, attacked or humiliated. Such videos can be flagged and reported.

The video of the fight was still on Facebook pages Thursday morning. Facebook also prohibits bullying, intimidation, harassment and any content that is hateful, threatening or violent.

Parry Aftab, executive director of the nonprofit Wired Safety and a member of Facebook’s international safety advisory board, encouraged parents and students to report Facebook and YouTube videos that are inappropriate.

“They really do take them down,” she said. Schools should flag them, too, she said. “This is a very serious issue. The schools can’t teach them if the kids are afraid.”

Rosa King, Darin’s sister and a teacher in Montgomery County, said the case points to failings in the education system and in how closely parents monitor Facebook.

“I think parents need to be aware of what their students do online, and I think every child involved in the cyberbullying should have had some consequence,” she said.

Such videos have been taken in schools across the country. In Massachusetts, a YouTube video was recently posted of two high school girls fighting in front of more than 20 other students. More than two dozen were suspended, according to news accounts.

In Montgomery, a YouTube video of a fight in the Churchill High School gym involving at least four girls was widely viewed last week before it was taken down.

Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said that he could not discuss specific consequences but that students could face discipline for posting videos of school incidents in certain cases.

Generally, schools have the authority to require that students take a video down when images are taken on campus and are harmful to another student, Willard said. Schools should adopt specific policies about recorded images, she said, but few have done so.

Calvert officials said the school system has authority to discipline students for social media postings if educators can show a disruption in school.

Nine of 10 teenagers have witnessed cruelty on social networks, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Many ignore it or step in to defend close friends. But 21 percent join in the torment, said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist.

With students carrying cellphones to school each day, the Calvert case is not surprising, Lenhart said. “There are witnesses with recording ability at probably every one of these fights,” she said.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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