The incident Monday inside South Cobb High started in the morning, between first and second periods, and involved two male students.
From there it escalated into a full-fledged brawl.
“The dispute grew to involve a larger group,” said Jay Dillon, director of communications for the Cobb County School District.
According to an arrest warrant, a school police officer, administrators and a maintenance worker who injured his right knee “attempted to stop the fight.”
Dillon sent an email to the MDJ on Tuesday morning disputing the MDJ’s initial story of how the fight transpired and how the campus police responded.
“The incident that occurred Monday and the use of pepper spray was an extremely rare occurrence,” he said. “No batons or nightsticks were used, and the insinuation that they are used often is false.”
By 5 p.m. Tuesday, however, Dillon reversed course on the use of batons. He said a full review of the incident confirmed that an officer “did in fact use his baton to assist in breaking up the fight.”
Dillon said the incident was handled within 10 minutes, but the warrant stated one student fled the school, running down Austell Road before he was captured by police.
Of the seven students detained, five were charged as juveniles and two as adults. According to arrest records for the two adults, the teenagers were arrested on charges of disrupting a public school and obstruction of law enforcement officers, both misdemeanors.
The two adult students, both 17 years old, were granted bonds of $1,000 each, but one of the young men remained in the the Cobb jail Tuesday afternoon, according to the arrest report.
“We also disciplined students who were identified as gathering to watch the fight and thereby creating an unsafe atmosphere,” said South Cobb High School Principal Ashley Hosey in a letter posted online, addressed to the “Eagle Family.”
Dillon would not say what type of discipline any of the students faced, including those allegedly involved in the fight.
Pepper spray in school
The Cobb school district employs 38 police officers, so each high school always has at least one officer on campus. Seven Cobb high schools, including South Cobb, have two officers on duty at the same time.
On Monday morning, both officers assigned to South Cobb High School responded to the fight.
The school district officers are armed with guns, batons and pepper spray, Dillon said, with training on when and where to use those tools. The officers are not equipped with Tasers, or any electronic stun guns, he said.
Pepper spray is a chemical designed to irritate eyes, causing pain and temporary blindness, for crowd control.
“That is standard equipment for police officers,” Dillon said.
No staff or students were transported to the hospital, Dillon said, but students involved in the fight and a school police officer were treated by the school nurse for exposure to the pepper spray.
Dillon refuted reports that Monday’s fight broke out over something said on social media, but said Tuesday he was “not sure” of exactly what did cause the fight.
Hosey’s letter also did not address the reason for the fight.
“There are 1,998 students at South Cobb High school and 99 percent of the students do what is expected of them every day,” Hosey stated in his letter. “As I say every morning on the announcements: ‘We are not what people say. We are not what people may think. We are better than they could ever imagine.’”
Tools for teachers
Francesca Sweat, a member of the Parent Teacher Student Association, graduated from South Cobb High School in 1989.
She said her fellow PTSA members were “inflamed” Tuesday about news of the fight, and concerned it would hurt the high school’s reputation.
But on March 12, less than a week before the March 17 incident in which officers used pepper spray, two students at South Cobb High School were arrested on charges of disruption, fighting in a public place and obstructing law enforcement.
According to the warrant, the students were engaged “in a violent fight” in a classroom while class was in session.
A school police officer and several staff members had to physically restrain the students, who were “making derogatory comments and using profanity,” the warrant said.
Although Hosey is very positive and sends messages home to encourage parents to be involved, Sweat said she tells her children it is their responsibility to make the most of their high school education.
“It is up to you to learn,” Sweat said.
Being part of a sports team helps build character and can hold a child accountable for good grades and proper behavior, Sweat said.
“If he really loves the game, he can’t screw it up, or he will be sitting on the bench,” Sweat said about her own son’s commitment as a South Cobb High School student.
But, Sweat also remembers when she was in elementary school that a student could be paddled by a teacher.
“The hands of the teachers weren’t tied,” Sweat said.
Not that Sweat wants her son harassed by a teacher, but there should be options “if my kid is out of line,” she said.
Parents involved in South Cobb
Taffine Tinsley, 41, an officer with the South Cobb PTSA and a member of the Booster Club, volunteers at all times of day in the school and at after-school functions.
“We have worked very hard to change the image of our high school,” Tinsley said.
Tinsley is a parent of a South Cobb High School honor student, who is active with the school’s baseball team and football team.
On Monday, Tinsley said her son walked past the fight and then texted his mother to let her know when things had calmed down and that he was safe.
Tinsley said her son’s classmates do not act out when the weather is bad, as one teenager said in MDJ’s initial story about Monday’s fight. In fact, she said when about 400 students were trapped at the high school during the recent ice storm, no incidents occurred.
South Cobb High School also does not see an abundance of illegal drugs in the school, Tinsley said, or at least not more so than other Cobb schools.
Tinsley also said the students at South Cobb High School are not materialistic. Instead, they are respectful and at school to learn life skills, she said.
“They are focused on becoming something when they grow up,” Tinsley said.