Food Fights should be “Must See TV”
by Stuart Singer, The Teacher Leader
According to the Washington Post, all 27 Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) high school principals are fed up. They are tired of an apparently never ending string of cafeteria food fights that are occurring on a regular basis in their buildings. It is critical for the public to understand that these events bear scant similarities to the iconic scene from “Animal House”. According to the Post:
“One day in March, pranksters turned the cafeteria at Robert E. Lee High School in Fairfax County into a maelstrom of hurled milk cartons and leftover lunch.
“Close to 100 teenagers joined the melee, flinging sandwiches and water bottles. Hundreds of others, caught in the crossfire, screamed and ran for the exits. A 17-year-old, eight months pregnant, was knocked to the ground.
“Two students — recent immigrants who presumably had little experience with the modern American food fight — hyperventilated to such a degree that officials called 911.”
Clearly, unlike scenes from a movie, there is nothing funny about these incidents. And many are far from random. A related article described another dust up at a different FCPS school, which featured hundreds of raw eggs and a false fire alarm all of which resulted in more than 600 students fleeing in a treacherous and slippery panic. Add the possibility of salmonella contamination and you have raised the potential negative outcomes to a whole new level. Since it is hard to imagine raw eggs as a typical item in a student backpack, this food fight was hardly an impromptu event.
What the principals want
According to the principals in the district, they have limited avenues for controlling the situation. Rarely are the guilty parties being caught and punished. Consequently they are requesting the installation of cameras in the cafeterias as a deterrent. At a cost of $8,000 per school this request would seem reasonable. In fact, all but three of the principals have offered to fund the cameras out of their own school monies. The debate within the school community appears to be centering on privacy issues.
From the classroom teacher’s point of view
While the potential physical harm from these food fights should be sufficient to mandate the installation of the cameras, there are educational reasons to consider as well. The learning environment of a school is a delicate balance. The days prior to winter break, the first warm spring day or the simple forecast of snow can make maintaining student focus difficult. Any incident such as the one at Lee HS, which includes flying food, ambulances, ruined clothes and hundreds of students milling around in hallways will bring academic pursuits to a complete halt. Ask any of the teachers at that school how their afternoon classes responded to the curriculum that day. In fact, that question could easily be expanded to the academic progress for the rest of that week.
Install the cameras!
The privacy arguments are a bit vague. It is difficult to understand exactly what a video of a cafeteria would reveal that would be such an invasion. It is highly doubtful that the film would be used to evaluate a student’s eating etiquette. What it could do, however, is pinpoint the perpetrators of fights (food and otherwise), bullying, drug transactions among other negative behavior. More importantly until such activities are stopped, the education of a large portion of a school population will continue to be hijacked.
It is time to give principals the ability to roll the tape!