An outdoor fall festival at a north Baton Rouge charter school spun out of control Thursday morning after a large fight broke out, prompting worried parents to rush to the school to collect their children.
The Career Academy high school locked down after 15 to 20 students began fighting, a fracas involving boys and girls that the school’s principal described as “a lot of hair pulling and punching.”
“Everybody started fighting,” said Trevis Bowie, a 12th-grader at the school. “There were a couple people catching bruises. One boy had a gash down his arm.”
An extra-duty officer used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, “which was very effective in getting them to move in the right direction,” said Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman. No serious injuries were reported and no arrests were made, but Coppola said charges were possible as the investigation continues.
Nancy Roberts, executive director of the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators, the charter for the school, said the students chose to take out their anger on each other despite previous efforts to quell “interpersonal” issues.
She said the school would begin an investigation Friday morning.
“We will have school tomorrow and this behavior will not be tolerated,” Roberts said.
“The kids who started this will be brought to task, and we will figure out an appropriate way to discipline the students.”
Caldrika Woods hurried to the school to see about her brother, an 11th-grader, after she heard about the fight. She said her brother was punched in the neck while trying to shield a girl from a blow.
“We need to get it together,” said Casa Bean, another parent. “Somebody could have gotten hurt.”
Melissa Bentley, the principal of the career-focused charter school, said students not involved in the fight were escorted back into the building. No ambulances were called, no weapons were used, and the school day continued, though some parents chose to withdraw their students from school early, she said.
Bentley said she knew something was wrong and tried to head it off the day before the fight.
“We spoke to about 10 girls in the office, trying to help them manage their interpersonal issues,” she said, saying the dispute likely started out of school via social media.
Bentley said she had hoped that Thursday’s planned event, which she described as a fall festival held outside at the school’s 4375 E. Brookstown Drive campus, would help to bring students together.
“This was an opportunity for everybody to do the right thing,” she said. “They ultimately chose not to do the right thing.”
Those who fought, as well as those who helped instigate the fight, are subject to three to five days suspension, under the charter school’s disciplinary policy.