Dothan Preparatory Principal Darius McKay and Superintendent Phyllis Edwards are trying to quell rumors of a large number of fights at Dothan Prep since the beginning of the school year.
After a fight occurring outside Dothan Prep campus made waves on social media, Edwards posted on social media that the fight was a first for Dothan Prep.
“Also, I ask of our community to please step away from social media and call your school officials to address your concerns. Allow us the opportunity to address the needs of our community directly.” Edwards said in a post on Facebook. “The principals, teachers, and staff at Dothan City Schools deserve the respect of the community that they serve. It is a difficult job and getting more difficult as it seems every day that effort must be spent to fend off the rumors and attacks, rather than to focus on how to best serve our children.”
Despite Edwards’ plea, many users responding to her post were quick to agree that there had been more than one fight occurring at the junior high school. Some claimed that there had been multiple incidents.
In an interview, McKay later amended Edwards’ assertion, stating there have been two fights at Dothan Prep, another occurring in the auditorium earlier, and one case of physical harassment, which took place in the gym.
“There are not huge amounts of situations,” McKay said. “There were a total of three physical incidents, but not huge amounts that people are talking about.”
He added that it is possible that students have seen more altercations because of the number of students housed on the same campus.
“People don’t realize there is no other (junior high) school our size, so you’re going to have more incidents than the typical 300- or 400-student (junior high) school,” McKay said. “You’ve got four different very diverse schools coming together with 600 kids per grade level. You can expect for things to be a little bit more than just what you would see on one campus like we saw in our individual middle schools.”
With the consolidation, four middle schools – Honeysuckle, Beverlye Magnet, Carver Magnet, and Girard – were combined to create the largest junior high school in Alabama with roughly 1,800 students.
“Nonetheless, it’s still dramatically lower than the four middle schools combined for the first four weeks of school – the number of physical incidents,” McKay said.
Last school year, there were 146 fights at all middle schools, according to State Incident Report (SIR) data provided by Dothan City Schools. An overwhelming 72% of all fights occurred at Honeysuckle, while 29 were reported at Girard, seven at Beverlye, and five at Carver.
McKay responded to some of the criticisms listed on the Facebook page, including an unreported incident that occurred in the auditorium, the school system intentionally not disclosing the number of fights, and that many students are leaving the school as a response.
The fight in the auditorium was just an argument between two girls who were separated before it turned physical, McKay said. He added that he has not observed widespread un-enrollment, but there are a number of no-shows every year.
The Alabama State Department of Education will have school-reported enrollment numbers available to the public in October.
“You’ve got so many misconceptions which are untrue,” McKay said. “I’m here to be honest and transparent…”
He said that the schools do not report on minor physical incidences as it is not a requirement by the state and they’re a common occurrence.
“Because you’re dealing with middle school students and they do stupid stuff all the time, and so we can’t report on anything, you know, horseplay, which is minor in nature,” he said.
As of last week, 13 DPA students have been sent to PASS Academy under a stricter code of conduct. The student who made a school shooting threat deemed not credible by law enforcement is subject to expulsion, although that has not been determined yet, according to Scott Faulk, director of Safety, Security, and Attendance.
Students who engage in fighting are subject to 90 days in PASS Academy.
The facility has more than 50 cameras inside and around the school, and each grade level has an assistant principal and school resource officer monitoring the hall. McKay said that there are 30 to 40 adults on duty every morning and afternoon to monitor the age group, but the school could always use more help because of the sheer number of students.
Considering the amount of oversight, it is unlikely that fights go unreported, the principal said.
Edwards and McKay have shed some light on a “Parent Patrol” idea, in which parents could come to the school, receive a walkie-talkie and simply monitor students before and after school outside. McKay said the presence could help reduce the number of minor incidents. Edwards also presented the idea of body cameras for teachers, but it would require a large amount of funding.
“I think we’re doing a good job; there are still kinks to be worked out, no question,” he said.
Faulk said there was another way anyone of the community – students, parents, or just concerned individuals – could help. The school implemented “Anonymous Alerts” several years ago. The website allows the public to report “sensitive student issues” like bullying, threats, or suspicious activity.
“If it’s reported or seen by school officials, we give it its due diligence and we begin our investigation,” Faulk said.