A video taken on a Florida student's cellphone that has gone viral shows the fight, including the accused instigator kicking a 12-year-old boy in the stomach at least three times, and then tripping him backward over a locker room bench.
LAKELAND — A mother wants to know why students weren't being supervised in the locker room at Blake Academy when her son, who only has one kidney, was beaten up Tuesday morning, suffering a cut to his eyebrow, a knot to his forehead and a black eye.
Lauren Springfield also wants to know why victims' parents can't be informed of what discipline is meted out to perpetrators.
A video taken on a student's cellphone that has gone viral shows the fight, including the accused instigator kicking Springfield's 12-year-old son in the stomach at least three times, and then tripping him backward over a locker room bench — missing a backpack on the floor by a few inches. A student can be heard telling the boys to “chill.”
Springfield's son landed on his back, and the other boy then jumped on top of him and continued to punch him nearly a dozen times.
Several boys are seen at the beginning and end of the video trying to stop the fight, holding the attacker's arms. The boy elbowed one of those boys in the nose. But in the end, that boy and another convinced the alleged instigator to stop.
Springfield is angry school administrators did not call her about the fight — the school nurse did — and then refused to tell her what disciplinary actions would be taken against the boy involved and the three who took cellphone video, citing privacy laws. She was stunned when a neighbor called her that night to say there were three videos of the fight, which were then sent to her.
She said after watching the videos, she told school administrators on Tuesday evening, “I expect to know ... what the repercussions are for this incident,” Springfield said. “We went to the school the next morning and sat down with the principal, assistant principal and the school resource officer and what I continued to get was, 'We cannot share with you what our plan is for these students.'
"I think that when you talk about sending your child back into that environment, I think it's fair to know, are the children in school? Are they present? Because I need to prepare my child for walking back into that, and we could not get any of that.”
Springfield felt her only option to shed light on the problem was to post the assault video on Facebook, which she did Wednesday evening.
"I was nauseated. I was disturbed. It was almost like an out-of-body experience seeing my child go through this, and you know — and as a parent — you would hope that you've taught your child enough to make sure you're defending yourself," Springfield said, fighting back tears. "So it was sad for me not to watch him fight back because he did not once raise his hands to those kids."
Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd held a news conference Thursday morning in which she said assaults and bullying will not be tolerated on her watch.
“I can tell you that when we're working with them and working with families, we're going to try to convey as much information that we can convey to the families of the victim,” Byrd said, adding that she had spoken to Springfield Wednesday evening and would be following up with her again later Thursday. “There are some privacy rights about what happens to children because they do have certain privacy rights.
However, we try to give as much information to them that we can give to them. We can sit down with that parent, one on one, and try to share as much information as we can with them, one on one.”
District officials cited the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Florida Statute 1002.22, both of which mandate the protection of privacy of students' education records, including disciplinary records.
Byrd commended the boys who helped. She told reporters at the news conference that the boy seen attacking Springfield's son was suspended for 10 days. The three boys who videotaped the assault and could be heard cheering on the fight were also suspended, but she did not know for how long.
But Springfield found out from a group of reporters during her own hastily called interview later Thursday morning about the suspensions.
“You know more than I know. That is my first time hearing that,” Springfield said. “I think 10 days for that type of violence is a little concerning. You know children die every day in school — and I actually had this conversation with the superintendent last evening, that children die every day in school. And so to have that type of violence and not take immediate action like expelling the child from that school, and really, you know, counseling and anything else that needs to go into play.
"Ten days — that's almost like, 'what's your child's safety worth — 10 days?' "
Springfield's lawyer, Stephanie Durrance Weil, said because of the viciousness of the attack, they don't want the alleged perpetrator to go through a diversion program. Instead, they want him prosecuted as a juvenile and given probation and a no-contact order. Springfield had applied for a restraining order Wednesday, but was denied because it wasn't repeat behavior.
Springfield also does not want to see the school's physical education coach fired. He is listed on the school's website as Gregory Adams.
“This is a person's job. I don't want to be responsible for that,” Springfield said.
Byrd said the teacher's actions and why students weren't being supervised are being investigated and appropriate discipline will follow.
“Parents are — they have a right to know that — I've asked that same question: Where was the teacher?” Byrd said. “I will tell you that teachers are supposed to be ensuring that all students are safe when they are in their care.”
A man's voice can be heard on the video, telling the kids to break it up. Another child involved in the incident said the coach thought the boys were horsing around, which happens some days.
Following a spate of bullying issues last year in the school district, a new department was created in the summer of 2018 for behavior and mental health support, with Jim Maxwell as the department director. He takes bullying and physical violence issues very seriously.
District officials have said less than 1% of the district's 105,000 students have profound behavioral problems.
Maxwell can move a team of support personnel to a school if bullying is a problem — but that support must be requested by the school's principal. Once the call is made, Brett Butler, the director of discipline, can collaborate with the principal or bring in his team, which includes senior coordinator of positive behavior intervention specialist Deborah Barderscher, along with a PBIS facilitator. A behavior and mental health specialist can also be called in, along with a special education senior manager.
Maxwell himself can intervene if the situation is schoolwide and not just limited to one classroom.
Byrd said protecting children is a top priority.
“We're all here making sure that we keep not only this one child safe, but I don't want this to happen to any kid on our campus. And that's the message that I want to send to our parents and our students,” Byrd said. “Our students come to school to learn. These things should not be happening on our campus.”
This story originally published to theledger.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.