By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Madison Schools officials and the Groveport and Madison Township police chiefs met with parents on Nov. 8 to discuss and review the fights that occurred at Groveport Madison High School on Oct. 29.
Video of the fighting went viral on social media, which raised concerns in the community.
“The safety of our students and staff is a top priority,” said Groveport Madison Superintendent Garilee Ogden, a sentiment shared by Groveport Police Chief Ralph Portier, Madison Township Police Chief Gary York, and Groveport Mayor Lance Westcamp.
“We do care a lot,” said Portier.
“Nothing is more important to us than the well being and safety of our children,” said York.
“Groveport and Madison Township are great places to live, learn, work, and raise our families and the safety of our schools is the responsibility of all of us,” said Westcamp.
The Oct. 29 fights
Two fights erupted at Groveport Madison High School on Oct. 29 resulting in the school being placed on lockdown for part of the day.
“It’s our understanding there had been a Halloween party over the previous weekend where an issue developed between some of those attending the party,” said Groveport Madison Communications Director Jeff Warner.
Ogden said one fight happened at 9:15 a.m. and involved four girls.
“The fight started in the rotunda during class change,” said Ogden, then two other students then joined in the fight.
According to Ogden, a large crowd of students formed to watch and record the fighting on their cell phones. This crowd of students pushed to get a better view and also jumped on furniture to see while also yelling.
“The pushing among the crowd of kids and their filming of the incident with their cell phones while others cheered on the fight was a huge problem,” said Ogden.
Ogden said numerous staff members responded to break up the fighting and disperse the crowd.
“The fight itself only lasted 17 seconds,” said Ogden, according to a review of the school’s security video. She said the crowd was dispersed within 90 seconds.
“Two students were arrested by the Groveport Police and disciplinary action was taken against six students,” said Ogden.
Portier said the school resource police office responded quickly to the fight and that, in addition to the two arrests, seven charges of disorderly conduct were made.
Groveport Police responded to assist the school resource officer. Additional police units from Obetz, Madison Township, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office also responded.
“No one was hurt and everyone got home,” said Portier. “Fights happen in high schools all over. The important thing here is that 99 percent of the students behaved well.”
The second fight occurred around 11 a.m. and involved two girls. Ogden said this fight was brief and disciplinary action was taken. She said there were no other incidents that day.
The gun rumor
Ogden said video of the first fight, believed to have been taken by a student, quickly went viral on social media. She said a rumor spread swiftly online that a gun could be seen in the video.
“As part of the investigation into the rumor of a gun, we interviewed more than 50 students. Groveport Police and district staff conducted a thorough two hour search of the building (including lockers and backpacks),” said Ogden. “There was no evidence found that a weapon was ever on school property.”
Ogden said the school’s high resolution security video was also reviewed to see if a gun could be seen. She said the security video showed students holding things like sunglasses and cell phones in their hands.
“We found no evidence of a gun,” said Ogden, adding that one student holding sunglasses was trying to stop the fighting.
“Misconceptions can take things down an ugly path,” said Ogden.
Ogden noted the review of the school security video also shows several staff members working to stop the fight.
Ogden said one problem school officials dealt with that day included some parents who allegedly encouraged their children to fight and parents who allegedly wanted to fight students themselves.
“We had to have the police remove some parents from school property,” said Ogden.
Ogden said student disciplinary issues can exist at most schools and can also exist in a community. She said the district has safeguards in place and that discipline referrals are down so far this year at the high school.
Ogden said from the first day of school in 2017 to Nov. 8, 2017 there had been 699 discipline issues at the high school. She said this year from the first day of school to Nov. 8, 2018 there had been 282.
She said the high school has one school resource officer from the Groveport Police department and six other security officers. The district is also looking at adding a second school resource officer from the Madison Township Police department. There are also counselors and principals present and the high school’s 95 teachers are all on duty in the halls during class changes.
The school also has 20 walkie-talkies and 79 security cameras.
“Every inch of this school is covered inside and out by security cameras,” said Ogden.
Future safety measures
Ogden said the school has a “robust” safety plan in place and holds regular lockdown and evacuation drills.
She said the district is working on standardizing emergency response training, creating a safety and security council, creating a student advisory council to the superintendent, creating a crisis response team, and instituting the Safer Schools Hotline on all the district’s schools’ websites where people can provide information about potential threats.
Ogden said the district will be honest, transparent, and do everything it can to keep kids safe at school.