Clayton superintendent: Social media a factor in school fights

Clayton County School Superintendent Morcease Beasley talks about school safety at North Clayton Middle School in early May, one of three community discussions planned on the subject. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Clayton County School Superintendent Morcease Beasley talks about school safety at North Clayton Middle School in early May, one of three community discussions planned on the subject. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Social media is playing a role in the spike in discipline problems in Clayton County Schools, the district’s superintendent says.

During a community meeting on school violence Tuesday at Jonesboro High School, Superintendent Morcease Beasley told the roughly 125 parents, students and residents in attendance that some campus discord is being driven by disruptive students who are using the Internet to bring attention to themselves.

“I’m going to be honest, y’all got some of y’all’s cousins that like to fight,” Beasley said. “They like to videotape the fights and post it on social media.”

Beasley’s comments come just over a month after the district in late April banned bookbags and the use of lockers because of an alarming jump in the number of weapons being brought to its middle school and high school campuses. The district also mandated that all students either pass through metal detectors to enter school buildings or submit to searches conducted via hand-held wands.

The remarks also came hours after an Alexander High School student in Douglas County was allegedly stabbed early Tuesday by a schoolmate. The suspect, who has not been publicly identified, surrendered at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

On Wednesday, Douglas County officials said two more people were arrested in the case and that the alleged attack may have been planned. The suspect, the sheriff’s office said, may have had an accomplice and a driver who waited near the campus to drive the alleged stabber out of the county.

Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Schools and Rockdale County Schools also have taken steps this academic year to address school violence, including pushing a plan to soon require students to carry clear backpacks and asking parents to store their weapons safely.

Jonesboro High School students Rasaq Olowoeshin and Arwynn Presley told the Clayton County audience Tuesday that peer pressure and music, movies and other media that glorify violence also play a role.

“It’s not only just students who push certain things,” Olowoeshin said, “It’s also celebrities, athletes. I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where we are currently because ... of gang culture and just culture about crime in general.”

He said the glorification of crime has led kids to think they have to model themselves after rappers or celebrities and that they have to act tough to fit in.

“When they see someone who isn’t tough, who isn’t those things, they want to pick on them,” Olowoeshin said of disruptive students.” I was in a situation like that and it was make or break. Do I become something I’m not? Or do I go a different way and try to get above it?”

Beasley and others stressed that the issues are not universal in the district. The problems have been caused by about 150 students out the school system’s 53,000 student body.

He said the district plans to unveil plans it is considering for next year at its late May school board meeting, including possibly buying clear bookbags for all students. Those plans may also include ways to make fighting for social media attention less attractive, although it was unclear how the school system would do that.

“We’re even thinking about strategies and policies to address that,” he said. “In other words, we want to incentivize them not to do that.”

Chelsea Prince and Matt Bruce contributed to this report