School officials and police are intervening in response to a ‘fight club’ at John Gray High School, where organised fights among students ages 11-16 were being recorded and posted online.
This dangerous and violent behaviour is, understandably, cause for alarm and dismay among parents and others in the Cayman Islands community. However, these types of activities are far from being limited to Cayman.
A cursory Internet search for ‘fight club’ and ‘high school’ produces numerous results, with news reports ranging from New York to California and Florida, from New Jersey to Louisiana and Tennessee, in Alabama and Mississippi, in Texas and across the American Midwest. They’ve also been reported in several schools in Canada — on the other side of the Atlantic in the United Kingdom — and across the globe in Russia and Australia.
Oftentimes in homage to the title of the 1999 Brad Pitt/Edward Norton film, many news sites label these organised fights among students as ‘fight clubs’ — although the particular nature of the activities can vary from one-on-one bouts in school hallways and bathrooms, to boxing matches off school property with rules and safety gear, to clear cases of assault where groups of students attack individuals who refuse to participate voluntarily.
Sometimes, adults such as teachers and coaches can be culpable, either through passivity or active participation. For example, in one case that generated headlines, a young substitute teacher in Connecticut set up fights in his classroom, goaded the students on, and acted as ‘referee’. (He was arrested and went to court, where he was assigned to a probation programme.)
For the most part, when only students are involved, once the existence of the activity is made public, school officials handle the discipline and sanctioning.
While the videos of fights generate questions and criticisms about conditions within a school, administrators are often quoted in news reports as saying these high-profile, singular events are deeply troubling, but may not necessarily reflect general trends in behaviour within the school.
In September, John Gray Principal Jonathan Clark sat down for a wide-ranging interview with the Current, and he spoke at length about many topics, including the focus on improving discipline and behaviour at John Gray.
He said, “We’ve done a lot of work in improving behaviour in John Gray. When I first came, the reputation of the school really was ‘poor behaviour’. But when I got down to it, it was really 2% of the kids who were having some behaviour challenges, when you looked at the data — properly looked at the data.”
He also noted that, “The number of exclusions we’ve had compared to where we were over the last 4 to 5 years has just dramatically gone down. That’s when a kid has to be home from school for behaviour.”
In the press release issued by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service yesterday, Clark praised the police response and said, “We are working with the RCIPS to ensure that all anti-social behaviour, including this abuse of social media, is eradicated. We will always attempt to work in partnership with parents to continually educate our community about the dangers of social media in causing and glamourizing conflict, and in some cases, cyberbullying. Appropriate and strong sanctions have been put in place as the health and safety of all in our learning community is, and will remain, our priority.”