School fight yields to dialogue

May 03, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff writer

A fight over racial slurs led to the arrest of three Glenelg High School students last week and prompted two days of dialogue between black and white students on racial issues.

Hundreds of students had gathered to see the after-school fight, which occurred in a vacant wooded lot on Sharp Road. Police and teachers helped break it up.

Police charged a white male student with assault Tuesday after he allegedly pushed a teacher trying to break up the inter-racial fight among nine students.

Police arrested two black male students the next day, charging them with possession of weapons. Police said one had a hunting knife and the other brought brass knuckles to school in anticipation of another fight.

All three students were minors.

"We have increased patrol before and after school to make our presence known and ensure violence doesn't erupt," said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a police spokesman.

Police recorded the fight as a hate incident under the state's racial, religious and ethnic law because racial slurs were exchanged. Students who were fighting were not suspended because the fight occurred off-campus, said Patti Caplan, a school spokeswoman.

The two students who brought weapons to school were suspended, said Principal Jim McGregor.

If anything, the fight helped bring racial problems and issues to light, he said. The fight spurred two days of discussion and the formation of a multicultural relations committee at the school to deal with racial incidents.

"It's the beginning of a healing process," he said. "It was time we came together as one and began some sort of healing process and started a dialogue and learned how to express ourselves verbally instead of physically."

The fight also launched classroom discussions on racial issues and pulled together many students, who created peace-keeping task forces, McGregor said.

He said the multicultural committee is planned as "a sounding board for students to deal with issues in a peaceful manner, with the ultimate goal that we're equal students and we all need to pull together," he said.

Five school psychologists and several police and sheriff's officials were called in to help students.

Black and white students met separately on Wednesday. Black students complained about racial remarks and the lack of role models, while white students said they were frustrated that racial remarks were acceptable in certain company but not others, among other complaints.

On Thursday, more than 30 black and white students met to vent their feelings and discuss misconceptions and stereotypes with Sgt. Rodney Stem of the county Sheriff's Department.

"We had a lot of laughter and good understanding at the end," said Stem, who conducts sensitivity training and prejudice awareness workshops for police and sheriff's departments.

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