The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office responded to a call from Jefferson Somerset just after 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning, Nov. 2, regarding an altercation involving several students. Seven units were on the scene within five minutes and began immediately arresting those involved, quickly ending the fight that had erupted between several male students, some of them members of the Jefferson Somerset Tiger football team. In all, 15 students were arrested and taken to the Jefferson County Jail; 13 juveniles and two students who were 18 and charged as adults. By midday, the juveniles were being released to their parents without being charged, one and two at a time. The two 18-year-olds were charged with misdemeanor disruption of a school function; bond for the two was set at $500, according to the JCSO. No injuries were reported and no weapons were involved.
This was the first time an incident of this kind had occurred since Somerset took charge of the county's school system, according to the official statement from the school.
Assistant Principal Andre Gainey stated that teachers, school administrators and security personnel broke up the initial fight and called 911, but there were skirmishes that had broken out on the fringes when the sheriff’s department arrived moments later, and that calling 911 was routine when such an altercation occurred.
At the school board meeting Thursday evening, angry parents questioned why it took the school so long to notify the families of not only the 15 students, but all the students who attend Somerset. Some whose children who were involved stated that their kids were defending themselves against older students, and other parents of children who were not involved, were concerned about their children’s safety and would have taken them home for the day if they had been notified sooner.
Gainey stated that he did not have details about who had started the fight, but that he believed four or five athletes were involved and it was his understanding that all the students were 9th through 12th graders, adding that it would be investigated further. Once JSCO takes over, he said, the school didn’t interfere. “It’s like when JSCO comes to your house,” he said.
He stated further that the school set up a center in the elementary school office that day, where parents could pick up their children if they wished, without going through the front office. Some parents did, while others, once they found that their children were safe in class, opted to leave them at school. At the School Advisory Council meeting later that evening, Courtney Oliver, Curriculum Director for Pre-K through 5th grade, said that it was impossible to match the speed of social media, but that the families had been notified as soon as possible, and that the incident itself had been contained within 20 minutes.
The school remained on lockdown until administrators had time to check the perimeters and circulate around to all the classrooms, see that the kids had calmed down, that the teachers were at the board, all the kids were safe and a normal day of learning had resumed.
All 15 of the students involved received automatic ten-day suspensions. The school administration still has to set up meetings with the parents and JCSO to review each case individually to see if expulsions are warranted.
At the school board meeting, parents also raised concerns about the students involved missing ten days of classes, as well as concerns about older kids jumping on younger kids. At the school itself, just after the SAC meeting concluded, Gainey said that there were a number of behavior specialists on staff who had been working with the students regarding issues of bullying and hitting; during the SAC meeting itself, Courtney Oliver stated that student safety was the school’s priority.
Although there were verbal reports of middle school students also being involved, there were no elementary aged children in or near the cafeteria. The incident occurred just as the 15 students in question were leaving the cafeteria after breakfast, and the elementary school children are on a different meal schedule. JCSO’s Major Bill Bullock confirmed that there were no elementary school children in the area at the time, saying that JSCO had arrived within “just a couple of minutes” of receiving the call, since they were just down the road from the school.
Meanwhile, there are allegations (heard on WCTV News) about some of the students involved waiting for the others “with folded arms” just outside the cafeteria, but neither the JCSO nor the school have issued any official statements regarding who threw the first punch or what the underlying issue was. Somerset Jefferson Principal Cory Oliver promised parents at the school board meeting that the investigation would look at both sides “in the interests of fairness, because fairness means everything.”