Email, not gangs, involved in school violence incident

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:15

WESTFALL - There are no organized gangs at Delaware Valley High School, but there are kids willing to taunt or bully one another with email, according to Director of Secondary Education, Dr. Tom Finan. A parent’s question brought up the issue at the February meeting of the district board of education, based on reports of fighting in the school on Feb. 9. The parent spoke of a gang called the “New World Hustlers,” some 13 fights through the day, a building lockdown, and police being called. Dr. Tom Finan was away on a recruiting trip and did not attend the meeting, but District Superintendent Dr. Candis Finan said she had not heard of 13 fights, “perhaps three or four.” Neither did she know of a building lockdown. “I was in the building and I didn’t see or feel a lockdown.” She went on to say that the district’s policy with violence was same as drugs and weapons, which is zero tolerance. “They were quickly disciplined,” she said. She said it was not unusual for the police to be at the high school. “We’re very fortunate to have the Westfall Police,” she added, because the state police are difficult to summon, sometimes taking two hours to respond. “They tell us they don’t want to come, that we’re not important enough,” she said. Speaking recently, Dr. Tom Finan said building administrators reported only two fights. One, he said ,was termed a “twinkie fight,” between two boys in the lobby. “I really don’t think they wanted to fight.” The two were each suspended for three days. A later fight in the hall, again with two principal combatants, was more serious. Those two boys were each suspended for 10 days. In the case of the longer suspensions, the district also preferred disorderly conduct charges, which involves a court appearance before the district magistrate and a $300 fine. He said it now appears that an email exchange was partially responsible for at least one of the confrontations. Bullying and taunting by email and text messaging first became a concern last year, he said. “We have no way of finding out what goes on at night. It’s immature behavior and we have to deal with it,” he said. As far as gangs are concerned, Dr. Tom Finan said there are none. The name, New World Hustlers, was an on-the-spot creation of “five fresh boys,” he said.“We don’t have gangs; some ‘wanna-be’s’ but no gangs.” In the post-Columbine world, he said that Delaware Valley does not provide an atmosphere to accommodate gangs. Finan said the district is the only one in region that does not employ security officers or regular police “program officers” on a daily basis. “We’re diligent. We don’t need those kind of things,” he said. Delaware Valley relies on zero-tolerance for violence, drugs and weapons. Violate them and “boom, you’re out,” he said. “We run it a lot like a parochial school.” The Pike County Sheriff’s Department’s drug-sniffing dog has been to the school twice this year in unannounced visits and Finan said he has told authorities that he would welcome the introduction of an undercover officer to the student population. The district also conducts urine analysis of students seeking parking permits and those in extra-curricular programs. Delaware Valley makes extensive use of electronic surveillance and staff monitors in the halls. Students are not allowed to loiter in the halls or exchange money in the school. When a student is expelled, an announcement is made in class the day after the board of education ruling, that a student has “made poor decisions involving drugs or prescription medicines.” Finan said he wants the staff and teachers’ message to be clear and unwavering. “It’s tough love,” he said.