Comparing Gang Reduction Policies of Two Large Metro School Systems
by Flowering Spring Tree
As a teacher in two large, county public school systems in the Atlanta metropolitan area within the past 15 years, I have observed, witnessed, and experienced two very different policies regarding student gang activity reduction. One school system that was predominantly populated by African-Americans, was extremely effective in dealing with student gang-related activities at school. The other school system, mostly composed of Caucasians, but that was also diverse in its representation of students of Hispanic, African-American, and Asian descent, was not at all effective in its policies that did not address student gang-related activities at school – and it continues to be that way today.
In the one school system in which I taught that was predominantly composed of African-Americans, administrators and faculty throughout the county immediately addressed any form of student gang activity swiftly and harshly. The school system had a zero-tolerance policy for any form of gang-related activities. Some school administrators were more effective than others, however when the principals took a no-nonsense approach to student gang activity, it was very quickly reduced. For those students who were those to just go along with the crowd, if they experienced trouble at school due to gang-related activities, they also faced it from their parents at home, as well. Therefore, a harsh punishment such as a three to five day or more suspension from school was an effective deterrent for these students. For those other students whose family members were already involved in gangs, there was no deterrent because no amount of disciplinary action caused them to change.
My area of teaching in both school systems was in middle school education. I can recall one particular incident in the school in which I taught that was predominantly African-American that there was a group of about 15 students who, one day, decided to go “off the chain” so to speak, at school, by cutting class and behaving wildly in what school administration considered mob activity. Students acted out of control by screaming, yelling, fighting, and just generally creating a huge scene in one particular area of the school. All the students were immediately suspended, and their parents contacted. Those identified as the ring leaders received harsher consequences, and those students who basically went along with the situation just for the fun it, to my knowledge, never misbehaved in such a manner again at the school. The manner in which the situation was handled was effective, not only in regard to everyone’s safety, but also to send the message that such behavior would not be tolerated.
In contrast, in the other school system in which I taught, administrators all the way up the chain of command took a blind eye to student-related gang activity, and still do. In this predominantly Caucasian school system, it is my observation that such issues are ignored, overlooked, and allowed to fester. Administrators do not deal with the issues. Particular faculty members, including myself, were concerned about creating a better school environment, not only for ourselves, but for everyone, and we were active and vocal about the need for reducing student gang activity in the school. Not only were we not heard, but some of us, including myself, were targeted with severe retaliation. Not only did administrators not desire to deal with the issue, they did not want anyone talking about it or taking it upon themselves to be proactive in attempting to reduce it.
Of course, administrators in this school system went through the motions of speaking with students who were suspected gang members when they evidenced gang-related activities at school, but no consequences were ever issued to them. Therefore, the student gang-related activities continued, and in some cases, escalated to involve even more students. School administrators further went through the motions of inviting county police officers to give a presentation about gangs, however, when the school system administration is not supportive of ways of recognizing or reducing student gang activity, nothing changes. Faculty who are without authority to issue disciplinary consequences or even to implement strategies aimed toward reducing student gang activity are at a loss without support from school administrators.
Upper administrators as well as middle managing principals did not – and still do not – want to recognize or deal with the issues, and therefore, everyone is on their own. It’s survival of the fittest. So much occurs which the public is never made aware of regarding gangs, territorial disputes, crime, drugs, sex, guns, and other issues within schools that it is a wonder that more serious issues have not occurred, such as the injuries and deaths of even more students and/or adults in the schools. As I say, this is a school system that turns a blind eye to the issues, and which is more interested in maintaining only an outstanding positive image to the public. What people don’t know won’t hurt them, right? Apparently, this is the philosophy of this particular school system in which things do not change for the better, and have only stagnated and/or worsened.
Caring professionals in school systems in which the administration is supportive of reducing student gang activity, in my observations and experience, are the most effective at doing so. In such school systems, the professionals take the issues extremely seriously and don’t play games. In school systems in which administrators appear to be more interested in their own paychecks and the image of the system, there is a huge lack of effectiveness in recognizing and dealing with student gang activity reduction. Although neither situation in either of the two school systems is ideal, the better situation for everyone is for school systems to recognize and deal proactively with student gang-related activity, for the safety and well-being of all.