Fight Underscores Policy Need

Fourteen middle school students may face suspension after organized brawl

       A group of students at the East Hampton Middle School were involved after school ended on Jan. 13 in fighting at Herrick Park, which is expected to lead to “appropriate disciplinary measures.”

       In an email to parents on Friday afternoon, Charles Soriano, the middle school’s principal, said the school had been made aware of the incident by the East Hampton Village Police Department. Dr. Soriano also said that student bystanders had videotaped the fighting, later sharing the video among their peers, and possibly on social media.

        “Although this organized fighting occurred after school hours, this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated from members of our school community,” wrote Dr. Soriano. “It’s both disturbing and upsetting. As a school, we will take appropriate disciplinary measures with the involved students. Our investigation is ongoing.”

       In a conversation on Tuesday afternoon, just before the school closed early for the snowstorm, he said he was equally disturbed by the student bystanders, “who did and said nothing.”

       “Everyone involved is culpable,” he said. “It’s just as bad to stand there and do nothing.”

       Dr. Soriano said that two boys initially planned to fight. “No agenda, it was just to fight.” A second, spontaneous fight erupted later. In total, 14 students were involved — four fighters, two students who videotaped them, and eight bystanders. All are boys and all are students in either the seventh or eighth grade. The principal said they represented a mix of racial and ethnic groups.

       Each of the 14 will face a series of disciplinary consequences, he said, “up to and including suspensions.” Those who were caught fighting face out-of-school suspensions, as opposed to detention during school hours.

       In the coming weeks, Dr. Soriano said he planned to meet with students in their homerooms to discuss the incident.

       Earlier this month the middle school implemented new guidelines on electronic devices. The “no display during the school day” policy, as it is called, forbids students from using cellphones, iPods, earphones, headphones, and other electronic devices during the school day. Previously, students had been allowed to use such devices before school, at recess, and during lunchtime.

       Now, from the moment students enter the building until the dismissal bell rings, cellphones must either be off or in “silent” mode and stored in lockers, or, if on their person, hidden from sight in either a backpack or pocket. Failure to adhere to the new code results in a series of disciplinary actions.

       Dr. Soriano said the recent fight and subsequent videotaping further underscore the need behind the change in policy.

       “This age group is completely, with very few exceptions, incapable of making good decisions when it comes to electronic devices,” he said.

       Four days before the fight and more than two months after receiving the final go-ahead from the East Hampton School Board, drug-sniffing dogs finally paid a visit to East Hampton High School.

       Early on the morning of Jan. 9, seven squad cars from the Suffolk County Police Department pulled up in front of the school, bringing along two dogs from the department’s K-9 unit.

       During the search, though the dogs scratched and sniffed at several lockers, which were subsequently searched, no illegal drugs were found.

       “Nobody knew they were coming,” said Adam Fine, the high school’s principal, on Tuesday. The entire school was placed on modified lockdown during the search, with students asked to remain in their classrooms.

        “We opened a handful of lockers and didn’t find anything,” said Mr. Fine, who estimated the whole search lasted about 30 minutes. “I guess I’m happy.”

       At several school board meetings last fall, when the drug dogs were first debated, a handful of parents asked that the dogs also be allowed to sniff their children. “At no time did the dogs come in contact with kids, and they can’t. It’s against the law,” said Mr. Fine. “All the parents want us to sniff their kids, but they forget about this thing called the Constitution.”

       The principal said there was “absolutely a plan to do it again.” And though it will again be a surprise visit, “the school community should be prepared that we will make this a regular occurrence.