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Six were victims of violence at Alpena High

Majority of students say they’ve witnessed classmates hit

ALPENA — There were six victims of violent crimes on Alpena High School property or at a school-sponsored event during the 2017-18 school year, according to the most recent data available from the Michigan Department of Education.

Principal Tom Berriman said the six incidents were reported to the state because the school does not tolerate physical altercations.

“If a student’s behavior is causing injuries to another student, then they lose their opportunity here,” Berriman said. “If you’re going to cause injury to another person through your reckless behavior, then you just don’t have a right to be here anymore.”

There were a couple incidents last school year in which an aggressive student injured another, Berriman said.

The numbers show that, while Northeast Michigan schools see less violence than bigger districts downstate, schools here are not immune from danger.

It’s not just Alpena High. While all other school districts in Northeast Michigan reported zero victims of violence to the Education Department, students tell a different story in state surveys.

The Education Department’s most recent Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth surveys show 46% of high school students in Presque Isle County saw another student pushed, hit, or punched at least once in the 2017-18 school year, while 75% of middle school students witnessed that.

In Alcona, Alpena, and Montmorency counties, 66% of high school students saw another student pushed, hit, punched one or more times, while 98% of middle school students saw that.

EXPULSIONS

In addition to the data on victims of violence, expulsion data shows students are being disciplined for poor behavior, including bringing weapons to school.

In the 2017-18 school year, Northeast Michigan school districts reported a combined 490 suspensions and expulsions for what the state calls “prohibited behaviors.” The data does not show what specific behaviors led to that discipline.

Onaway Area Community Schools, a school district with 615 students that school year, reported zero suspensions and expulsions to the state. Superintendent Rod Fullerton said the school tries to avoid such discipline.

“There’s data that suggests that out-of-school suspensions aren’t effective, so I guess we’re living up to that data and trying not to use out-of-school suspensions as a tool,” Fullerton said.

There was one expulsion at Alcona High School. Two expulsions occurred at Alpena High, with one involving a weapon. Berriman said a student received an automatic expulsion for bringing a knife to school.

“We didn’t have an issue where a weapon was used, it was more of in possession,” Berriman said.

There was one expulsion at Alternative Choices for Educational Success Academy and one involving two students at Thunder Bay Junior High School.

‘WE HAVE CONSEQUENCES’

Alpena High has worked since the 2017-18 school year to improve its environment, but administrators and students both agree work still needs to be done.

Alpena High junior Evan Carlson said the school has a positive environment, but things were bad a couple times. One student was pushed into a glass window, he said. Another student was jumped in the bathroom and punched in the face.

Berriman confirmed those situations. In the glass window incident, he said two students were horsing around and ended up knocking out the window. The students had to pay $1,500 to replace the window.

In the bathroom incident, Berriman said administrators questioned students and one student who took a video of the incident gave it to the school. There are no cameras in the bathrooms, Berriman said, but cameras outside the bathrooms so officials could see who was going in and out of the bathroom.

Berriman said the student who jumped the other student is no longer a student at Alpena High School.

“We have consequences in our building, and it’s no longer the days where ‘boys will be boys,'” the principal said. “We’re not tolerating that anymore.”

Alpena junior Damon Adams sees bullying more than he would like.

“I usually see, like, teenage boys picking on other, what they consider weaker, teenager boys, and they’ll prey on them,” Adams said. “It’s sad, because the people who are getting picked on don’t know it’s always happening. When you see people pick on other people, it’s because they feel bad of themselves.”

The use of social media and cell phones has increased the number of cyberbullying cases with which the school deals.

“I would say the majority of the cases that I personally have been involved in started with the cyberbullying and then it leads into the school,” Berriman said.

“You find (that) it starts out with social media and sometimes explodes,” Carlson said.

Students see incidents happen on the buses more often than at the school.

“I’ve seen a lot of people getting messed up on buses,” Adams said.

The increased use of cameras on buses has helped school administrators, Berriman said.

“We’re not only able to see what’s occurring on the buses, but hear what’s occurring on the buses,” Berriman said. “Our drivers do a really good job of communicating to the garage and dispatch of what’s going on. There’s been instances where I’ve been called out to a bus and pulled kids off the bus.”

Berriman said that, last school year, he handled three or four bus incidents.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.