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Kids were fighting in school. Dads began patrolling campus, and the violence stopped.

Since they started ‘Dads on Duty,’ there hasn’t been a single violent incident on campus

From left, Kenneth Henry Sr., David Telsee III, Tracy Harris, Merge Johnson, Michael La’Fitte II, Michael Morgan Sr. and Zachery Johnson are several fathers who volunteer for “Dads on Duty.” (Courtesy of Michael La’Fitte II)

After 23 students were arrested in the span of three days for fighting at a Louisiana high school last month, Michael La’Fitte II’s 16-year-old daughter was scared to go to school.

“My kid was visibly shaken,” said La’Fitte, 40. “Her classmates felt the same way.”

He reached out to other parents of students at Southwood High School in Shreveport, La., and organized an urgent meeting on a Sunday afternoon “to see what we could do to mitigate the issues on campus,” he said.

The parents hatched a plan.

A group of five fathers came up with a concept called “Dads on Duty.” Their idea was to take shifts patrolling the campus every weekday “as community leaders and liaisons,” La’Fitte said. After all, “who better to protect and take care of our kids than us?”

The fathers started the initiative on Sept. 20 and since then, there hasn’t been a single violent incident on campus.

“It has really made a difference,” said Kim Pendleton, the principal of the school. “They are very proactive in making sure everyone on campus feels safe.”

The high school is now “very calm,” she said, adding that many of the students “felt uncomfortable” by the heavy police presence on campus, which the school district initiated following the arrests.

Shortly after the dads showed up, though, the additional security was no longer needed.

The parents asked Pendleton for permission before starting the initiative, and she was immediately supportive.

When they told her their plan to patrol the school, she thought: “What a wonderful way for dads to come on campus and be a positive influence, not just for their children, but for all children.”

Plus, “I am a strong advocate for parental involvement,” Pendleton said.

The first shift starts at 7:45 a.m. and runs until 10:45 a.m., and the second shift goes from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. There are typically two shifts per day, and depending on after-school activities, dads will sometimes patrol in the afternoon, too.

About six dads are assigned to each shift, and they strategically scatter around the campus, covering all central areas. Beyond surveilling the students to ensure everyone is well-behaved, “we give high fives and share encouraging words,” La’Fitte said. “And we also crack dad jokes, of course.”

With the dads around, “the kids feel safe,” he said. “You can just see the love.”

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For Makayla Crutchfield, 18, a senior student at the school, having the dads around has been a comfort.

“They interact with all the kids like we’re their own children. It’s kind of amazing,” she said. “They take the time out of their day to come out here and make sure we’re safe.”

The group is made up mostly of fathers of students at the school, as well as other members of the community and educational advocates. All shifts are done on a volunteer basis, and so far, about 40 people have offered their time.

“I like to call it volun-love. Love for our children, love for the community and love for the school,” La’Fitte said.

Zachery Johnson, 41, a father of four students at Southwood High School, is an active volunteer who works with La’Fitte to organize the shift schedule. They created a public Facebook page to attract new volunteers, as well as a private group to communicate with the dads — all of whom are carefully vetted before joining the program.

“We not only have to patrol the kids, but we have to patrol ourselves,” La’Fitte said. “We make sure these are people who are qualified and suited to be around kids. They have to have the best interest of the children.”

To make the daily shift schedule, “we structure everything based on who can be there, when,” said Johnson, who owns a security company.

“We’re all working fathers. We have to fit this into our schedule,” said La’Fitte, who owns a men’s clothing store. He explained that many dads come at their lunch break, and immediately before or after work.

She’s a medical student. Her mom is a custodian at the hospital where she trained.

Despite their various obligations, they all make “Dads on Duty” a priority because “it’s important for the children to see that we care,” La’Fitte said. “We also want to be there for kids that don’t have dads around.”

That’s Johnson’s main motivation, as he was raised by single mother.

“I was one of those kids,” he said. Having more male role models around, “would have benefited me.”

Among the many community members who have volunteered their time is Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, who has taken a few shifts in recent weeks.

“When I saw that these dads were volunteering their time, I wanted to be part of the solution as well,” he said, emphasizing that the incidents of violence on campus have dwindled drastically since the dads showed up. “The decline in numbers is not a coincidence.”

The mayor commended the dads for their ongoing efforts and invited several members, as well as the school principal, to a city council meeting on Oct. 26, which he declared “Dads on Duty Day.”

Other local officials also vouched for the impact of the initiative in helping to curb crime in the high school.

“From a law enforcement standpoint and from a personal standpoint, having dads or parents around who are responsible citizens can’t hurt anything,” said Thomas Lites, a detective with the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office, the agency that responds to incidents at the school.

Lites said the spate of violence and arrests at the school, which took place the week of Sept. 13, were not an “isolated incident,” as fighting on campuses is “pretty common” in the district, particularly recently. In fact, parents, teachers and law enforcement officials across the country say students have been acting out and fighting in unprecedented numbers since returning to the classroom after pandemic school closures.

At Southwood High, several brawls broke out among students, and “it just kept spiraling out of control,” Lites said, adding that one student also posted a photo of a gun on social media, directly threatening the school. The 14-year-old male student was charged with terrorizing.

But since “Dads on Duty” started, the high school campus has been peaceful. Although a sense of calm has been restored, the fathers are staying put.

“We are on campus indefinitely,” La’Fitte vowed.

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Given the success of the initiative, the group has high hopes to expand the program to cover all schools in the district.

“Then we’ll move from district to state, and finally, to the whole country,” said La’Fitte, who has already started having discussions with the Caddo Parish Public Schools superintendent about bringing the program to other campuses.

For La’Fitte and the rest of the dads, “it really is our duty to protect our children and lead them along the way,” he said. “That’s just what good fathers do.”

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