Classroom fight caught on video, father expresses concern - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Classroom fight caught on video, father expresses concern

CENTER POINT, AL (WBRC) - A father is asking school officials to explain what more could have been done to stop a classroom fight that ended with his son on the ground after being punched by another student.

FOX6 News Videojournalist Katie Herrera began investigating the story after Byron Steele contacted FOX6 News with cell phone video of the incident at Erwin High School. The video, recorded by another student on October 13, begins with a classroom out of control. It shows a teacher stepping between two fueding boys but, after a time, the teacher poses for the camera.

Eventually the teacher throws his hands up and walks away.

Moments later, a boy in a red shirt threatens to punch, but another boy steps in. Punches are thrown and a student ends up on the ground, stumbling to stand up.

"They left my son as prey," Steele said. "He (the teacher) leaves my son to defend for himself. He does nothing to stop anything at any time. And my son is assaulted."

FOX6 News asked Steele about the video, which seemed to show Steele's son doing some of the antagonizing. He denied that to be the case.

"No, actually if you watch the video, my son got antagonized after he got pushed and shoved in front of the teacher by the other student," Steele said. "My son did not throw a punch, did not lay a hand. The other student struck first. And the teacher did nothing when he struck first."

Erwin High School Principal Van Phillips described the incident differently to FOX6 News.

"I think the teacher thought he was going to be able to get the boys to comply," Phillips said. "The teacher stood in front of two young men to stop them from fighting. They both refused to comply with him."

Phillips said the teacher was trying to talk the kids out of fighting by defusing the situation, even when posing for the camera.

"No, I see it as him trying to de-escalate the situation, try to diffuse the situation," Phillips said. "Sometimes you try to do it with humor, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I believe that was his attempt in that particular environment."

Phillips said the part of the video where the teacher throws his hands up and walks away was when the teacher went for help.

"He tries to call the administrator," Phillips said. "He says, 'you guys are not going to, I'm going to call the administrators.'"

FOX6 News asked Phillips why the teacher didn't send a student for help so the teacher could have stayed between the boys.

"Well, hindsight is always 20/20," Phillips said. "After something happens, you always know, 'Well, I should've done this or that.'"

Steele said besides wanting to know what more could have been done to stop the classroom fight, he also wants to know why he was not immediately told his son had been knocked out and why his son did not receive any medical attention.

"There was no call for assistance, no ambulance called, not even that," Steele said. "They didn't even let me know when I picked him up that my son was assaulted and knocked out."

Phillips said the student was evaluated by the school's Resource Officer.

"The SRO ended up talking to the young man and at the time he talked to the young man, he was very upset," Phillips said. "It didn't appear to them that he needed any medical attention, he was trying to get back to the other kid to get a punch in."

Jefferson County School Superintendent Phil Hammonds said the teacher is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

"There will be an administrative procedure to follow while the teacher is on leave," Hammonds said. "We will look into the matter. I know the school takes this very seriously, as do we."

Steele says he would like to see the teacher fired.

"This is where my son goes to school everyday," Steele said. "This is where a lot of kids are at school everyday. There's a lot of children that this can affect if it happens again... not just my son, but each and every kid, and who knows how many times this has happened? This is just the first time it was actually caught on video."

Phillips disagrees.

"I will say that I don't think that's a fireable offense for the teacher," Phillips said. "Whenever your child is involved in an incident where they come up on the short end of the stick, they're upset. 99 percent of the parents of children at Erwin are very pleased with the progress at Erwin."

Both students involved in the fight, including Steele's son, were punished to serve 10-15 days at an alternative school. Steele said he kept his son home during that time as he tried to appeal the punishment. Both students are now back at school.

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