Three Florin High School students were taken to juvenile hall Monday after a wild lunchroom fight in which Principal Don Ross was lifted off his feet and slammed to the ground.
The fight has drawn national attention after a student took a cellphone video and posted it to YouTube.
A 13-year-old and two 15-year-old students were arrested; their names are being withheld because they are juveniles. Two face allegations of battery on school staff causing injury, while the third was held on suspicion of making threats against other students and law enforcement, according to the Elk Grove Unified School District.
Ross and two other school officials suffered minor injuries in the melee that involved eight to 10 students. After trying to restrain a student, Ross was thrown to the floor. Undeterred, he got back up and tried to prevent the student from fighting again.
“It’s one of those things,” said Sacramento County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull. “The administrators were trying to break up the fight. Obviously, they take that risk.”
Ross called the situation at Florin High “rare and unusual” in a statement released by the school district. “We have great students and staff at our campus and we’ve been working diligently to build Panther Pride and in establishing a college-bound climate for all students. Unfortunately, three students disrupted our work and the learning climate of 1,500 students here on campus. I am back at Florin High School and look forward to re-establishing a sense of unity, pride and safety at our school.”
Elk Grove Unified School District spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton said the altercation stemmed from a disagreement in the personal lives of the students. Apparently one student was angry about comments one student made to another, Pinkerton said.
The district has scheduled a parents meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the school, 7956 Cottonwood Lane in Sacramento, to review the incident, the school and law enforcement’s response, review parent communication and elicit parent feedback and questions.
Turnbull said deputies haven’t responded to Florin High for anything similar to this fight over the last year.
Some area principals haven’t been as lucky as Ross, who officials said was not badly hurt.
Stuart MacKay suffered severe head, neck and neurological injuries in 2009 when he tried to break up a lunchtime brawl as principal of River City High School in West Sacramento. A 15-year-old boy was convicted of assault for punching McKay in the back of the head; the boy and three other students were expelled.
McKay took the helm of Yolo High School, a continuation high school in West Sacramento, the next year because he said he still wasn’t “100 percent.” He thought a smaller school would be easier to control, he told The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday. In 2011, he suffered back injuries while separating two fighting girls. He said he was out of work for several weeks and returned to light duty before retiring permanently in 2012 because of his injuries.
The retired administrator, who says he suffers from memory loss, and kicks and punches in his sleep, could not bring himself to watch the video of the Florin High principal being thrown to the ground. “I feel awful about what happened to that administrator,” he said. “I didn’t want to watch it.”
Despite memory problems, McKay remembers the day he was injured at River City High. “All of a sudden you feel the atmosphere change,” he said. “As I left my office I knew something was wrong. As I left my office, bedlam broke out in the cafeteria. It started with a big food fight and spread from there.”
In Sacramento County alone, school officials logged 235 instances of assault or battery on a school employee that resulted in student suspension or expulsion during the 2013-14 school year – the latest year data is available, according to the California Department of Education.
Opinions differ greatly about whether school staff should risk injury to break up fights between students.
The priority of an administrator faced with an altercation is to “stabilize the situation,” Pinkerton said. “It is one of the things that comes with the duty of being an administrator.”
The same month McKay was injured at Yolo High, a teacher there was publicly criticized after a video surfaced showing him watching – hands in pockets – while two boys fought in a different incident. The teacher was waiting for a school resource officer to arrive.
Contacted at his El Dorado County home Wednesday, McKay said he intervened in as many as three dozen fights while principal of River City High. Back then, he believed it was his duty.
He has since changed his mind. The retired administrator advises school staff to step back and wait for law enforcement. “It’s a question of personal safety,” he said.
With cellphone videos and sharing websites readily available, school fights have gained visibility.
“It is a bit disappointing to us that students chose to video it and post it online,” Pinkerton said. “We try to teach our students to not just stand by and watch. Discourage it and walk away or talk to a school official.”
The Bee’s Phillip Reese contributed to this report.