Parent says gang intervention policy is too vague
Douglas High School officials say the school provides adequate security for students and staff, but one parent thinks safety policies need to be clearer.
Jim Crozier said school administrators refused to give him a clear outline of what is done when gang activity is suspected after they “singled out” his son, James, 17, and labeled him a gang member.
DHS Vice Principal Tom Morgan said the school has no written gang policy for the simple reason that gang activity has constantly evolving symptoms and signals and the administrators, as in every disciplinary situation, work on a case-by-case basis.
“Every time we get into a situation, it is all handled uniquely, there is not criteria to fall back on,” Morgan said. “Recently, there was a rumor a kid was going to come to school with a knife. We met with the kid first thing in the morning, talked to him and searched him. There were no issues, and we moved on with our day. When you know the kids pretty well, it makes it easier, and we work hard to do that.”
n Singled out. Crozier became angry and contacted The Record-Courier after several incidents. This is James’ first year at DHS, coming from Southern California where he lived with his mother. James, a sophomore, said on the first day he walked into school, he felt eyes on him because of his clothing.
“On the first day, a teacher told the administrators she didn’t want me to go into her class because she thought I was a gang-banger,” James said.
James described his clothes as baggy and the type usually associated with the hip-hop culture – labels such as Fubu and Echo.
His father said although he is aware the clothing his son wears is strange to many people – including himself – he doesn’t think his son should be singled out.
“He and his friends don’t wear the same colors or the same things, and they don’t call themselves a gang,” Crozier said. “Granted, it’s not clothing I would wear and I’m not happy about it, but I have to choose my battles.”
Crozier said in October, James was in a fight in which he claims he was attacked and did not throw the first punch. The school said the fight was gang-related and both boys were suspended. Recently, James was called out of study hall and searched by a police officer after he was seen drawing a Vietnam-era soldier with a gun, which James said was cover art for a history project.
“It is starting to sound to me like they are trying to protect the students at the expense of their rights. The policy is a little too vague to me. The school wants to ride him for the way he appears,” Crozier said.
Morgan said the school has to investigate anything staff thinks is suspicious.
“We always provide every kid with due process. We make sure we hear their side of the story,” he said. “If the teacher is uncomfortable with that situation, we are going to do an investigation. In post-Columbine times, we are going to err on the side of staff and student safety.”
n Gang activity. Douglas County Sheriff’s Investigator Keith Logan, who handles cases of gang activity, spoke with the Croziers after the latest incident.
“The county’s policy is zero-tolerance. In Douglas County, we will cite or arrest you if there is any evidence of any criminal activity. That’s what we do. Therefore, we don’t usually have a lot of problems,” Logan said. “The school is very conscious of creating a learning environment free of distractions. Mr. Crozier’s child had some questionable things.”
Logan said when he met with James and his father, he didn’t see any evidence of gang activity.
“He is in a hip-hop type fashion. I’m going to meet with him and some of his friends and give them a better idea of the way things work. I’m not concerned with his son in particular. There might be something they wear that has a double meaning; something an actual gang member might take offense at.”
Logan said there is no one thing he can point to that would be a signal of gang activity, but said some colors combined with symbols have meanings to gang members.
“Last year, we did have some dealings with a group wearing red, trying to send a message to other groups and intimidate other groups. No crime was committed. They just all wore the exact same thing on the same day. We had meetings with the parents and they all stepped forward and communicated with their own children and it was a good experience for all of us,” Logan said. “I explained (to James) some things are going to draw attention. And being a new student, people are looking at him to see where he fits in.”
Morgan said administrators work hard to prevent violence of any kind on campus, but they don’t always catch everything.
“Being visible is the most important thing. The kids will behave differently if they see you are around. We have staff duty before school, on break and on lunch. We’re constantly visible,” Morgan said. “Most of the time, we don’t see the fight start. There is tension in the air and all the kids’ heads twisting in the same direction. There was a fight the other day that I never saw, and it happened within 5 or 10 yards from where I was standing. The commons area is very crowded, and it is hard to see over all those heads. So we just pay attention to the kids and constantly move.”