Prince George's school fight posted on YouTube frustrates parents, students

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011; 10:14 PM

When fists started to fly, the students flipped on their camera phones.

They were trying to capture what they have been telling their parents for months: Fighting at High Point High School in Beltsville is out of control.

Footage posted on YouTube this weekend lasting 84 seconds shows a student being sucker-punched Thursday on his way out of the school's cafeteria. As he runs into a hall, at least three more students jump him. They kick him in the head and chest as shrieks are heard in the background. A crowd of about 150 gathers, but there is no security guard in the shot.

Marcus Smallwood, head of the school's parent-teacher association, said he was angered but not surprised. For months students have contended that administrators have been downplaying their worries over violence and lax security. The video was an exercise of frustration in the digital age.

"The students felt like they had no way to substantiate their claims, and they wanted their parents to believe them,'' Smallwood said.

Dozens commented on the video after it was featured on a blog called the Real Prince Georges, which chronicles happenings in Prince George's County. The YouTube video received more than 2,700 hits before the poster, who has not been identified, removed the video Monday morning. It is not clear whether more than one video had been uploaded.

Such temporary postings are increasingly common among high school students who are looking to avoid getting into trouble, said Edward P. Burroughs III, a school board member who graduated from Crossland High School in Temple Hills last spring. Most are posted on YouTube with unusual user names.

It wasn't clear Monday whether anyone had asked the poster to take it down.

District employees are instructed to encourage students to remove online videos that might embarrass their schools, said Lynn McCawley, a system spokeswoman. Students are also subject to disciplinary action for using cellphones during school hours.

The melee was one of several fights that occurred at the school Thursday, McCawley said. The largest scuffle started during a food fight in the cafeteria, she said. No injuries were reported, and no weapons were found.

Prince George's police detained five students. Other students might be questioned after police review footage from the 40 surveillance cameras installed in the school, McCawley said. The school also has two on-site investigators, two security assistants and one deputy sheriff.

Those measures have failed to foster a sense of safety among students and parents. Over the past year, administrators have tried to persuade parents that the school is making strong efforts to stem violence.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. addressed such concerns as gang beefs and High Point's 21 percent truancy rate in front of parents at a meeting Wednesday, the night before fights.

"We're really trying to get a lot of community involvement with this issue,'' McCawley said. "We are taking it very seriously.''

Many students, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation, said they do not think the school's efforts are enough.

"Something needed to be done, because there is not enough communication about how unsafe the school has become,'' said Daniel Diasgranados, the freshman class president. "In one day, there were seven fights. It's all absurd.''

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