County schools are no place for gangs


Published: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 12:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 12:47 p.m.

It is really disturbing to me and a lot of other citizens that we have neighborhood gangs in our schools.

As a citizen of this great community and a staff member of the Alachua County School Board, I believe we must eradicate this idiotic gang behavior from the minds of our youth and instruct them that gangs have no place in our society.

Certainly, gang activity in our schools is definitely not something we will tolerate. Gang activity among our youth appears to be an attractive lifestyle. However, I don't think students participating in this type of violence understand all of the ramifications. Persons who are associated with gang activity will suffer heavy penalties from our school district. Students who are identified with gangs will be suspended from our schools and possibly be recommended for expulsion, which means they will not be allowed to attend any school in Alachua County for an indefinite period of time.

Studies indicate that persons who identify themselves with gangs seem to have no ranking within the family unit, and it is just the opposite with gangs. They have power and position. In some respect, they are seen as ranking members of their turf and want to control who enters their territory.

Within the family, there could be a lack of love and appropriate guidance in the home when young children desire to be part of a gang. We all know how difficult it is to raise a family, particularly with boys, who are adventurous and need more structure and guidance at certain age levels. This is why we ask the question about fathers as role models in the home. Where are they?

Fighting in our schools has experienced an uptick. Whether it is gang-related or not, it is happening in our schools. Our schools are supposed to be a safe place, a refuge for those who desire to capture the dream of getting a good education. Lately, a few students see our schools as a place to settle disputes. Some seem to have misguided values when they fight and bring violence to our campuses. This is not any one school issue, but a concern for all schools.

Recently, law enforcement, school administrators, teachers, deans, community leaders, and district staff met with students and parents at Gainesville High School to discuss ways to correct gang violence problems at the various high schools.

David Shelnutt, principal at GHS, facilitated the meeting and did an outstanding presentation of explaining the problem. He invited parents to work with his school as partners to help remedy the problem of fighting and being adversaries.

At the meeting, he immediately established an open-door policy for parents to come in and discuss issues and concerns they may have. At the time, we thought this meeting was productive and would yield good fruit. Many hours were spent brainstorming ideas to assist families and students.

Allow me to emphasize that the students fighting are just a handful, but when fights happen at school, they are a major disruption to the school learning environment. These major conflicts are dangerous, and oftentimes, students are seriously hurt or injured. The instructional time lost impacts other students. They are deprived of getting their education, and they, too become uncomfortable in the school setting.

We all know of the occasional dispute that may happen among students, but to deliberately scheme and plot to attack another person for living in a particular neighborhood, makes little sense to me. The gang signs on campus are always a dead giveaway, along with the language used to identify these groups.

Boys and girls must find other ways to settle their disputes. Aggressive behavior has no place in our schools. The common thread that binds us is the idea of a free society with the opportunity to get a good education without the threat of violence toward individuals.

It is imperative that students of all races understand the guiding principles that make this country so great. Public education is available to every child who desires to better themselves.

Gangs in our schools will ultimately be dismantled by school administrators and district officials. If gang activity continues to surface on our campuses, students will be deprived of an education. We are adamant about keeping our campuses safe and free of violence.

Let's work together to keep our communities and schools safe. We owe this to every child attending school, but the schools cannot do it alone without the help and support of parents. All of us must plant good seeds for our children to be successful. Talk to your children.

Philoron A. Wright Sr. is assistant to the superintendent of community and schools for Alachua County Public Schools.

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