Four students charged after fight at Watkins Mill High
One injured in hallway brawl
It started with a dirty look in a hallway.
That's something that happens every day, and normally doesn't escalate into a fight, Scott Murphy, principal of Watkins Mill High School, said.
But about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 1, a passing glance started a five-student brawl that sent one to the hospital and led to the arrests of the other four.
Montgomery County Police arrested two 16-year-old boys and two 17-year-old boys; all were charged with second-degree assault. Their names were not released because they are minors.
The fifth student, who is 18, was not charged immediately because he was taken to a hospital after being punched, Lucille Baur, a Montgomery County Police spokeswoman said. He was released from the hospital the same day.
Police said Friday they planned to release his name after he is charged. He had not been charged by Monday afternoon, but police he will probably be charged this week.
Police are investigating whether the fight was gang-related, Baur said.
Although this was a serious fight, Murphy said he does not want it to spoil a great school year.
"Sometimes I get concerned when one isolated incident crowds the perception or reality of what is really going on here," Murphy said. "The vast majority of our kids know to do the right thing to talk to a trusted adult, or a parent or a school counselor."
Police were called to Watkins Mill High 27 times in the 2009-2010 school year for serious incidents such as assaults, drugs or weapons on campus, thefts and medical emergencies. At the two other high schools in the county police's 6th district, Gaithersburg and Quince Orchard, police were called 32 times and 14 times, respectively, according to a Montgomery County Public Schools Safety report.
Susan Young, vice president of the Watkins Mill PTSA, shares Murphy's concern. She said she has not once worried about the safety of her daughter Abby, a sophomore at the school.
"Abby hasn't felt anything but happy and safe," Young said. "Fights happen at every high school. The school did any exceptionally good job in communicating to parents."
Murphy sent a letter home to parents the same day letting them know about the fight.
"[This] incident is an aberration of behaviors normally exhibited by our students," Murphy wrote.
The morning after the fight, Murphy addressed the entire campus in a video announcement.
"I congratulated the vast majority of students that do the right thing," he said.
Police have been called to Watkins Mill High several times since school began this year, Baur said, but not for anything particularly serious.
"The events reported are typical of any high school," she said, citing calls for sports injuries and wildlife on campus.
On Dec. 1, the five students ran into each other between classes, Baur said. No weapons were involved.
The school's six security guards separated the students, Murphy said, with the help of administrators, who monitor the halls between classes.
Murphy said one of the school's surveillance cameras captured the fight.
Police will review the surveillance video as part of the investigation, Baur said.
The five students all know each other, Baur said, and had a contentious relationship for several weeks.
Two were involved in a conflict in October, Murphy said, and had been disciplined by the school. An intervention took place among the students and their parents, with school counseling and mediation, and referral to outside agencies.
Murphy said it was hard to say how the earlier altercation relates to the Dec. 1 fight and he could not provide details of how the school will discipline those involved.
"A fight of this nature involves serious police and administrative action, which are severe under the county's policy," he said.
The Montgomery County Public Schools' Code of Conduct states that for incidents that violate the code, such as physical assault, bullying, cheating, etc., the principal has the authority to determine appropriate corrective actions based on the circumstances of each case.
The code recommends students who are involved in multiple incidents, such as the two involved in both the Dec. 1 and October fights, be considered for recommendation to the school board for long-term suspension or expulsion.
Last school year, 23 Watkins Mill High students were given out-of-school suspension for fighting, according the county safety report.
The school has a range of methods to encourage good student behavior, Murphy said.
"We start by building personal relationships with the kids so they feel comfortable," Murphy said. "Counselors meet with every student individually at the beginning of each school year."
Counselors also visit classrooms, and the school has a curriculum for good decision making.
Young said she does not believe the PTSA needs to step in to help the school.
"I don't know what the PTSA would need to help with," Young said. "The school did an excellent job."