Parents and educators are discussing the path forward after a disturbing video captured a massive brawl on the campus of Rich South High School during a football game Friday.
In the video, a student is seen being assaulted by multiple individuals, leaving him with serious injuries.
According to district officials, the unidentified student is currently recovering at home after the fracas.
Parents and activists who gathered Tuesday say that the fight is one of dozens that have been reported so far this year.
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“There has been multiple fights last year, around 100, and so far this year, there have been close to 30, and school has just started,” Randall White, commissioner of the school district board in Rich Township, said.
Parents gathered at the district’s offices in Matteson Tuesday to voice their concerns, which they argue was caused by the decision to close Rich East in 2019, consolidating the district into Rich Central and Rich South high schools.
“When they closed down Rich East, now you also consolidated the gangs from one school and you put them all together,” Sunday Love, a parent of a student in the district, said.
Supt. Johnnie Thomas defended the decision to consolidate the schools, saying that they were able to beef up security at both facilities and to actually cut the number of reported fights, contrary to statistics cited by the parents and other activists.
“The total number of incidences that we’ve had this school year went from 35 fights last year to nine this year, a 74% improvement,” he said.
Thomas said that the school district has “zero tolerance” for fights, and that his belief is that the transition back from remote learning during the COVID pandemic has caused more friction within school buildings.
“We created an environment where we had to allow for the students to socially and emotionally adjust to the new environment,” he said.
Still, Love’s daughter Azariah said that fights are a regular occurrence, including one in the last week where she said that she was struck in the face by a laptop.
“I just feel like the administration has not taken it serious, and when they do take it serious, it’s like, they’re treating us like prisoners,” she said.