At Issue: Was state high court right to apply law to kids fighting?

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At Issue: Was state high court right to apply law to kids fighting?

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A Georgia Supremen Court ruling allows kids to defend themselves in school fights without fear of expulsion.

The rising tide of fighting and violence in the schools has finally come to this: The Georgia Supreme Court, in its first decision in a school discipline case, has ruled on a law that gives a defense to an adult who resists an attacker also can apply to students on a playground.

The Henry County Board of Education had expelled a Locust Grove High School student under its zero-tolerance policy against fighting. The student contended she was defending herself.

The Georgia code says, “A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when … he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force.”

A Superior Court decided for the student, but an appeals court sided with the school district. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed the appeals court ruling.

“Schools with ‘zero tolerance’ policies against school fights must nevertheless apply the Georgia statute that gives students the right to argue self-defense as justification for the fight,” according to the Supreme Court’s summary of the case.

“The court confirmed that the blind enforcement of zero-tolerance fighting policies, which do not consider a student’s right to self-defense and subject victim children to expulsion from school, are unlawful,” said Mike Tafelski of Georgia Legal Services, the student’s attorney.

The decision comes at a time of heightened public awareness over violence in the schools. The AJC’s Eric Stirgus reported in June that the number of fights reported by Georgia schools rose from 46,399 during the 2011-12 school year to 53,462 in the 2015-16 school year, a 15-percent increase.

Is it right that a self-defense law intended for adults now applies to children? Tell us what you think. Send comments by email to communitynews@ajc.com. Responses may be edited for length and/or clarity and may be published in print and/or online.

LAST WEEK: WHAT SHOULD FAYETTE DO ABOUT DANGEROUS ROADS?

Fayette County has begun modifying the intersection of Antioch Road and Goza Road to reduce near misses and crashes, including fatalities, that have increased over the past few years since the roads were realigned. At the Board of Commissioners meeting on Aug. 24, eyewitness accounts of the intersection’s dangers prompted the county to prioritize a new solution and fast-track the engineering study that will determine what happens next. The county has already posted more visible signage near the intersection, and is considering making the site a four-way stop (which some drivers mistakenly believe it already is) or installing a roundabout. Excessive speed and limited sight distance have also been identified as safety factors there. We asked the community for comments and suggestions.

Here are some of the replies:

The intersection of Goza and Antioch has been a very dangerous one for many years. We lost a dear friend at that intersection in 2001. A four-way stop, flashing signs, [and] increased police patrol is not going to solve the problem. A traffic light or roundabout seems to be the safest resolution. — Joyce Lorton

Can’t tell you how many wrecks, ambulances and fire trucks we’ve seen there. My husband and I drove two teenage boys and their dad home last year after their car was T-boned by a woman who assumed it was a four-way stop. – Kim Kerkering Boone

I think we all have the same sincere concern of we don’t want to see another person hurt or killed at this intersection. That’s why I suggest making this intersection a four-way stop, being warned by speed bumps before the intersection. It’s the people who cross over Antioch who think it’s already a four-way stop and that’s why they pull out. – Natalie Atha

I know a roundabout is more expensive, but to me it is the best option. People don’t stop at the stop signs now. Why would they stop at a four-way stop? You really can’t just speed through a roundabout. You have to at least slow down a little and acknowledge that it’s there. – Katie Carpenter

My mom was in a terrible accident there a year or so ago … it needs to be a four-way stop or have a light. – Tabitha Kroenig

It seems the cause of much of the problem is poor visibility because of a hill approaching Goza on Antioch…the cars coming over the hill are going too fast to stop. The four-way stop might be the safest, if substantial extra warning signs are set for both directions. My daughter, her husband, and FIVE of my grandchildren need this intersection several times a day going to Whitewater schools and other activities, including teen drivers, so I am very interested in a lasting solution to this at the earliest possible time! – Tricia Deini Lopez

Jill Howard Church for the AJC

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