Chopticon parents call for more surveillance

After brawl, extra video cameras requested to ID future perpetrators

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A parent whose child was involved in a brawl earlier this month at Chopticon High School has started a petition calling for more security cameras in the school.

At least one parent of an underclassman was denied her request to see video of the fight supposedly caught by a school camera. Parents of students involved in both sides of the fight have said suspensions were not doled out fairly.

"They would not let us see video," said parent Bobbie Tayman, whose 10th-grade son was one of several students suspended after the fight on April 17.

According to the St. Mary's public schools' procedures about audiovisual surveillance in schools, in the case of a disciplinary action, a parent "has the right to request a review of the audiovisual record of the incident." That recording will be kept until students involved have fulfilled disciplinary obligations or until all appeals have been exhausted.

Students used cell phones during the fight to capture the images of her son and others, Tayman said, and several students have sent her the videos. "Yes, it was chaotic. You can see that on video clips from the cell phones, she said.

The student-made videos she has seen start midway through the fight, she said. Tayman is offering a reward for anyone who has video of the beginning of the fight. "That would clear up everything," she said.

Tayman has compiled the videos along with printouts from students' Web site pages from MySpace as evidence that she alleged would show the fight was planned in advance. She said the principal and administrators of the school have refused to look at her evidence.

Principal Garth Bowling did not return a phone call by press time Tuesday.

Mike Wyant, supervisor of safety and security for St. Mary's public schools, said Tuesday "if there is evidence that supports one version or another, we certainly will review that."

While there was an increased police presence at the school last week, Tayman and other parents are calling for even more protection.

Rumors of students bringing a gun or guns to school circulated through the building last week.

Wyant said any rumors are being seriously investigated. "None of the rumors [involving weapons in school] have been substantiated," he said.

"We continue to coordinate with the sheriff's office and will continue through the end of the week. The officers are patrolling the areas of the school, the parking lot [and nearby roads] and assisting staff and administration," Wyant said Tuesday. "We're doing everything we can to restore confidence in our students. The school is safe and secured."

Melissa Charbonnet, executive director of student services, said that fights are uncommon at Chopticon and occur at a lower rate than the county's other two high schools and two of its four middle schools. "This is not a problem," she said. "Teenagers sometimes get into fights … Is it appropriate? No. But does it happen? Yes."

As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been no appeals made to her office for the suspensions given out for the April 17 fight.

Tayman's petition calls for the school to add more video cameras in common areas of the school, including hallways and stairwells such as where this month's fight occurred.

Kim Bannister, another parent of a student who was suspended in the fight, said her freshman son told her there were 10 to 12 people actually involved in the fight, which started when students, including her son, allegedly threw coins or crayons off a balcony to students below, she said.

Student Reid Colomo said Tuesday that he has seen threats on Web site pages that the students involved may be targets of another fight. He was one of the students involved in the initial fight on April 17. "There's a lot of talk" at the school, he said.

While students from both sides of the fight have said they fear retaliation, "All parties involved have said absolutely, positively they're not going to continue in any shape or size," said Scott Smith, director of secondary instruction, administration and school improvement. He said he does not expect any retaliation to the students who participated in this fight.