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SCHOOL FIGHTS ON THE RISE CROWDING BLAMED FOR ESCALATING VIOLENCE.

Byline: Bhavna Mistry Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - An increase in campus fights - battles that have resulted in the arrest of 68 students so far this year - is being blamed in part of school overcrowding.

Statistics were compiled and brought to light last week after five students were arrested in one week following fights at three schools. The skirmishes left four students in need of medical attention.''

``It seems to me that the fights are increasing at all the campuses,'' said sheriff's Sgt. Don Wyman, in charge of the school deputy program. ``We believe it's due to the overcrowding, and the crowding is getting worse.''

In 2001, eight Canyon High School students were arrested for fighting on campus, a number that has doubled so far this year.

Canyon High School Principal Bob Messina attributed much of the increase to better reporting by campus supervisors, administrators and the sheriff's deputy assigned to campus. Officials use walkie-talkies to better monitor students.

``Every study will show you that overcrowding is asking for trouble,'' Messina added. ``With the overcrowding, there's always the potential.''

But Messina said most students are trying to get along.

``We are crowded and have little room to maneuver but for the most part kids have really been kind,'' Messina said. ``It's not really as bad as I've anticipated.''

Canyon High is just one of nine campuses in the William S. Hart Union High School District that is keeping track of fights and arrests. Bowman High, an alternative campus, went from two arrests for fighting in 2001 to eight so far this year; arrests at Hart tripled to 15 this year; Saugus High's record of arrests for fighting went from four to six; and arrests at Valencia more than doubled from five to 12.

``Overcrowding will increase tensions and lead to conflicts between students,'' said Paul Priesz, principal at Valencia. ``We take a lot of steps to reduce tensions and give students a way to deal with their conflict, but as tensions rise, conflicts will occur.''

Valencia's enrollment increased by 400 students this school year to 3,250, well over its design capacity of 1,924.

``We've been crowded, but we're much more crowded now,'' Priesz said.

Sheriff's deputies said the overcrowding is shocking. While temporary classrooms have been added to handle the booming student populations, common areas such as quads, cafeterias and restrooms are jammed.

``This is where everyone's going to congregate,'' said Wyman. ``They have no room to spread out and sit if they want to.''

He added that close quarters mean high tensions and the resultant fighting over petty issues.

``With most of these fights, it's just that the tempers are short and kids being kids,'' Wyman said. ``It typically starts out with teasing and just escalates.''

It's only when a fight result in injury that sheriff's deputies become involved.

In recent weeks, there have been at least five students held by deputies on suspicion of battery for fighting on campus. One case at Bowman was a felony, two arrests at Valencia involved popular athletes and another battle shut down the locker room at Hart High while blood was cleaned up.

``Today's society is a lot more dangerous,'' Priesz said. ``Many years ago, there would never have been an arrest for anything that happened at school.''

The recent slew of incidents started with a fight involving Valencia Vikings football players Charles Burnley and Desmond Blair who were booked Oct. 11 on suspicion of two counts of battery after beating up two cousins during a noon-time brawl the day before, sheriff's and school officials said.

Their case has been forwarded to the Los Angeles County Probation Department, which will interview those involved before making a recommendation to the court. Charges against the pair are still pending.

Also that day, two Bowman students got into a fight after one smiled at the other, according to a Sheriff's Department report. A 16-year-old punched a 19-year-old in the face cutting his lip and resulting in six stitches.

The 16-year-old was booked on suspicion of felony battery Tuesday and the 19-year-old remains outstanding but is expected to be booked for misdemeanor battery.

On Thursday, two Hart High school students were booked at the sheriff's station on suspicion of battery on school grounds after they left another student with a bloody nose.

``If there's an injury, we have to make an arrest,'' Wyman said.

While the number of arrests has increased, schools did not have records on the overall number of fights per campus. Most are handled at the school level with a standard five-day suspension.

``You go through periods where fights are up and then they're down,'' said Richard Freifeld, director of student services for the Hart district. ``They tend to (run in cycles). There were times when fights were up when schools were less crowded.''

Sheriff's Department and school officials also attribute the increase in arrests to more and more parents and administrators seeking recourse against students who solve conflicts with violence.

Administrators say making the incident a criminal matter might help deter other students.

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SOURCE: Santa Clarita Valey sheriff's station, William S. Hart Union High School District
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Oct 20, 2002
Words:862
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