Parents with children who attend schools in Houston consistently state that safety is paramount.
KHOU 11 News asked them to fill out a questionnaire about fighting and violence at their child’s school. Many of them said the problem was getting worse.
Most of the 428 parents who took part in the KHOU 11 School Safety Survey said they had seen videos of children kicking, hitting and hitting classmates between classes.
KHOU 11 investigative reporter Cheryl Mercedes did a series of three articles on the issues.
Where do most fights take place?
Sam Mayorga, Elizabeth Alanis and Steven Bergman took part in our survey and agreed to meet with KHOU 11 to share their thoughts on school safety.
“There are serious problems there,” Bergman said.
Nearly half of the people who took part in the KHOU 11 School Safety Survey said that there was fighting or violence at their child’s school. Of those who said fights happen, more than a third said they happen daily or weekly.
“School safety is a major concern – my son can go to school every day, feel safe, be able to express his ideas and beliefs without fear of repercussions, so that he can walk and learn – this is the goal of public education,” Bergman said.
Some of the parents who took part in our survey said that their children told them about some scary situations.
- “I’ve heard about guns, knives… children being cut with pencils.”
- “Children bleed after being kicked or punched.”
- “He tells me he’s afraid and doesn’t feel safe.”
Which schools in Houston have the most fights? This map shows where your children’s school is located.
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Mayorga, who helped raise her younger sister, said fights happen on the street after school behind buildings.
“They deliberately choose certain meeting places because they know that it will take a long time for the security service or the administration to meet with them. Children are smart,” Mayorga said.
The parents said the fights are advertised on social media.
“Usually on Snapchat because it just appears for a while and then disappears,” Mayorga said.
Elizabeth Alanis said she heard about them from her school-age daughters and at work. She is a teacher.
“I remember one time the students showed me something and I said, ‘We’re going to go down to the AP (Deputy Principal’s) office right now,’ Alanis said. in the corridor”,
Alanis said the school she teaches was closed due to a school fight.
“We had situations where there were fights on campus. We closed and the kids at my door were talking to me,” Alanis said. “So, I just dragged them into my room, we closed the door and just waited, and I want to say that it was all the way. school day. This frightens both the teacher and the adult. I’m glad I could at least assuage the fears of the students who were with me in the room. But it makes me realize that this can happen on any campus of my own kids, and what are you doing.”
“Often these kids are naughty at school, because there is clearly something going on at home. They don’t know how to control this anger, Mayorga said. “So then they get into school and they have a situation where they get molested and that just escalates the situation. They only need one spark to go from zero to a hundred.”
KHOU 11 Researchers studied data from the Texas Education Agency to find out how often fights occur in school districts in Greater Houston. We learned that there were more than 13,600 fights in the last school year, more than in five years. On average, this is about 11 fights per 1000 students.
Azariah Alanis, a sixth grader, has experienced some horrific experiences at school.
“There were fights at my school that were very serious and teachers were involved. It becomes really physical,” Azaria said.
Azaria said that some fights interrupt classes.
“There were fights in our classroom and students had to be locked up because they were knocking on doors,” Azaria said.
Her sister Xiani, a high school student, said that fights happen at her school too.
“I heard, you know, when I got to the sixth period, there was a fight during lunch,” Siani said.
Both sisters said they did not feel safe at school.
“I would say that in recent years, probably not,” Siani said.
“I was frightened. I was at lunch – it was the first time I saw this happen. It was right next to my table and I was like, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen?” They are going to approach me,” Azaria said.
According to the girls, fights are often advertised on social networks.
“Many of them are on TikTok or Instagram,” Azaria said.
KHOU conducted a survey about school safety. Most of the 428 parents who took part said that fighting was a major concern and that it was fueled by social media.
Here some of their answers:
- “People are filming them.”
- “…children record and post on social networks.”
- “Social media is a big problem.”
“I think it plays a big role because the students would say that this student published it. It was something about another student at school. My school received numerous threats that someone would harm us at school, and other students would write about it,” Azaria said.
“Social media continues to grow, and it’s getting easier and easier,” Siani said.
Dr. Laurel Williams, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, said that in order to understand why kids interact on social media, you have to think like you’re one of them.
“It’s so important to them to be seen and heard, and social media makes it a one click process,” Williams said.
She said that peer pressure and the desire to fit in makes social media irresistible.
“They emulate the people they look up to in the world – the social media influencers and this idea that I need to go viral to be relevant,” Williams said.
While restricting or banning social media might seem like a good way for parents to deal with the situation, Williams said it won’t change a child’s behavior.
“The problem with taking things away from teenagers and children is that they will just go underground. They will get someone else’s phone, create an account, enter a completely different name. They may lie about their age. So it’s not really a strategy,” Williams said.
Williams said that what you say to your child when he shows you a video of fights at school can help change his behavior.
“That’s where parents come in to kind of help them start a conversation and help them understand, because what you really want to do is develop this culture of the bystander that doesn’t let that happen. You can sit and say, my God, it looks terrible. What’s going on here? This looks pretty bad. What if it was you? How would you deal with it?” Williams said.
Azaria said these conversations take place at her school, where she acts as a peer mediator. She said giving children the opportunity to talk helps.
“I think they are starting to realize that they can solve this problem on their own and not get into a big fight over it,” Azaria said.
What happens to students who fight at school?
In Texas, schools cannot expel students for fighting. There are three options: detention, suspension, or alternative school. KHOU reviewed disciplinary action taken by Houston school districts.
What happens to students who fight?
In Texas, it is illegal to expel kids for fighting. Parents who participated in the KHOU School Safety Survey said existing policies were not enough.
In Texas, there are several consequences for children who swear at school: detention, suspension, or being sent to an alternative school. KHOU 11 reviewed disciplinary action taken by Houston school districts. We have found that the most severe punishment is rarely applied.
Fights take place in corridors, playgrounds and classrooms. The parents said it was out of control.
“There are some serious problems,” said Steven Bergman.
As a teacher, Elizabeth Alanis, who is also the parent of two school-age daughters, takes a front row seat.
“If I’m worried about what will happen during lunch or what will happen in the hallway… what will happen when we get to recess and there are no teachers around,” Alanis said.
KHOU 11 Researchers studied data from the Texas Education Agency to find out how students are disciplined in the Houston area. We found that only 5.7% of students caught fighting were sent to an alternative school last year. Most of them, almost two-thirds, were expelled from school.
However, parents who spoke to KHOU said none of the measures are working.
“Just punishing them… that’s not the way to go,” said Samantha Mayorga.
“If it’s a layered problem, then it’s a layered solution. We can’t just put your return here on hold, we’re going to do it all over again,” Alanis said.
Bergman knows this firsthand.
“My son made a couple trips to an alternative school. It didn’t solve the problems my son had. It just sent him away from his home campus for a month. He returned to school with the same problems he left with. So it’s not a solution,” Bergman said.
Dr. April Peters-Hawkins is Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Houston. She has also worked as a school principal, social worker and teacher. She said she was not surprised by TEA’s findings. She said harsher punishments, such as exile, were not the solution.
“I think we need to think about the policy we have for students. If students are naughty, there is a reason for this. Yes, our behavior has consequences. But we need to make sure these consequences don’t always exclude students,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins suggests that these students consider their decisions.
“Some of the restorative practices that schools do are important. So for children who are fighting, they make amends by talking about conflict resolution with the person they were fighting with. Maybe they write a letter where they go from point A to point B in solving a problem, but also reflect on what influenced me to make these decisions and not these decisions,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said that this is not a universal solution.
“There is something that escalates up to this fight. Therefore, it is important to understand what led to this, to keep abreast, to understand what is happening in the classroom, ”said Hawkins.