School Committee Seeks Changes To District’s Fighting Policy

WILMINGTON, MA — During a recent review of the proposed High School and Middle School Parent/Student Handbooks for the 2018-2019 school years, several School Committee members expressed concern with a “Special Statement On Fighting” that appeared in both handbooks.

The statement, which addresses self defense, reads as follows:

“Defending one’s self” is not considered an acceptable excuse for fighting. A fight starts well before the first physical contact is made. Many times the preliminary actions involve a verbal exchange. A person who considers himself in need of defending should see a teacher, administrator, or other adult first. Throwing punches in retaliation is not recognized as defending oneself. An acceptable defensive posture involves only blocking blows.

“I’m not comfortable with the idea that my child would face repercussions because he or she defended his or herself by using strikes,” said School Committee member Steve Bjork. “I’m not sure how practical it is to expect a child to defend his or herself simply by blocking punches and kicks until the assailant runs out of energy.”

Bjork also disagreed with the notion that all fights start before the first physical contact is made, noting some kids can get physical without much warning, or – in the case of a sucker punch – no warning at all.

“I support Steve in this,” agreed School Committee member MJ Byrnes.  “I would caution anything be written that minimizes a potential victim’s rights and ability to defend themselves. Punishing the victim only adds to the emotional abuse already received. I will put my faith in the administration, that they will take things on a case-by-case basis and investigate thoroughly before handing out punishments.”

“I, too, am increasingly uncomfortable with this section,” added School Committee member David Ragsdale. “Discretion and common sense have to rule the day when these fights are reported. If you’re being physically attacked, [the statement reads] that it’s your responsibility to not defend yourself, but to go find a teacher. I find that to be problematic if you’re laying on the ground getting pummeled.”

“We want a no-hitting climate,” explained Middle School Assistant Principal Jeannette Quirk.

“We don’t want to kids to use ‘self defense’ as an excuse to react over-the-top,” added Middle School Assistant Principal Daniel Faircloth. 

“We don’t want someone to use ‘self defense’ as an excuse for beating someone up,” noted Interim Superintendent Paul Ruggiero, in trying to explain the rationale behind the language.

Bjork and Byrnes suggested using some sort of qualifying language and allowing students to use self defense within reason without fear of being reprimanded by school officials.

The Middle School administration agreed to bring the statement back to the Middle School’s School Advisory Council to rework the language.  The School Committee later asked Wilmington High School Principal Linda Peters to do the same.

The section was being added to the Middle School handbook. The same section already existed in the High School handbook.

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