More moms and dads becoming vigilantes

Mom who taunted cheerleader because of drama between teen and daughter is one of growing number of parents stepping in on conflicts among students.
MCT Regional News
Apr 7, 2014

For a growing number of parents, asking the principal to intervene doesn’t cut it when they believe their child has been threatened.

They have become vigilantes: They send intimidating messages online or show up at school to confront students on their own.

Last week, a Groveport mother barged into a middle school to confront the girl she believed was bullying her daughter. She attacked another student, and a school administrator was injured when he tried to stop the woman from entering the building. She’s facing criminal charges.

Incidents such as the one in Groveport are extreme, but experts say confrontations between parents and students happen more often than people think.

Last fall, a Pickerington Central High School mother taunted a cheerleader during a football game, yelling and calling her names during her performance because of drama between the teen and the woman’s daughter. Pickerington police filed charges with the juvenile-court prosecutor, who ultimately dropped the case.

After two students at Waggoner Road Junior High School in Reynoldsburg exchanged hurtful text messages last year, a parent intervened by sending a threatening message to the other family’s child. Reynoldsburg police considered filing a telecommunications-harassment charge but didn’t.

“What happens in a lot of cases in these exchanges (between students), whoever wins sort of brings the other person to their cyber knees,” said Ed Johnson, who oversees student safety at Reynoldsburg schools. “Parents have seen it, and thinking their child is in some kind of jeopardy, sometimes they will take it in their own hands and track the kid down.”

School safety officials say social media fuels the situation, giving parents a transcript of their kids’ heated conversations. In some cases, parents struggle to decode the messages between students and jump to conclusions. In others, they dive into their kids’ spats and create their own fights.

“We’re seeing more cases of extreme behaviors by parents,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland. “The boundary line used to be there for parents in terms of appropriate behavior and talking with school administrators. That line has become blurrier and blurrier, and some parents have no shame with what they do.”

In Wyoming, three adults face felony charges after they reportedly started a rumble during a basketball game at an elementary school last week. One of the adults put a school police officer in a chokehold while another man tried to snatch the officer’s gun from its holster.

Last month, two parents in Philadelphia started a brawl when they stormed into an elementary school during an awards assembly. They wanted to fight two students but ended up attacking 10 kids, two teachers and the school police officer.

Trump said schools can learn how to ease tensions through staff training on how to communicate with an upset parent and knowing when to end a conversation before parents’ misbehavior escalates.

But some adults would rather handle situations on their own or encourage kids to fight. Several local police officials said they have responded to fights, only to find that the students’ parents drove their kids there.

“I’ve had some parents say crazy things to their kids,” said Tisha Pack, a Groveport police officer who has been stationed at Groveport Madison High School for five years. “One student told me, ‘My mom said if they put their hands on me, that gives me the right to fight back.’”

Parents, for the most part, mean well, reacting on emotion instead of logic, said Debbie Meissner, director of health and safety at Westerville schools.

“It’s usually a matter of sitting down with parents and asking them how they would feel if someone did the same thing with their child,” she said.

In her 28 years at the district, she has been able to defuse situations without involving the authorities by explaining to upset parents that the school has resources available to mediate conflicts between kids.

“In most cases, the children are not understanding that they are triggering this response,” Meissner said. “Generally, the students have not been pleased with the outcome of what their parent has done.”

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By Charlie Boss - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

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