How To Handle A Fight

Police officers do not belong in schools.

However, you may teach at a school where there is probably a school resource officer on the premise. Depending on the population of your school, you may have multiple on the campus. School resource officers are police officers who are assigned to schools to maintain discipline. They are in fact the new disciplinarians in some schools. The rise in SRO’s is because of school shootings such as Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. According to a Hechinger report, Since the 1990s, at least 11 states have enacted legislation that funnels state funds into school policing programs. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Education reported that law enforcement officers were present in 10 percent of public schools at least once per week; by 2014, 30 percent of public schools had SROs, the most common type of law enforcement on campuses. This is a trend that is not going away.

Many people believe that police officers will keep students safe in the case that someone comes to school with the intention of killing people. That may be true, but since that probably will not happen at a rate where police officers will be worth their weight in aluminum foil, what else is there for the police to do when in a school? They cannot teach. I am not sure if DARE programs are even around anymore. There are a few things that they can and will do… break up fights and remove students. As a teacher, when a student gets involved in a fight, we are told not to break up that fight and call the disciplinarians in the building. If your school has a SRO, who do you think is the disciplinarian? On Tuesday (January 3, 2017), a student at the Rolesville high school posted a video on Twitter showing a North Carolina high school student being physically manhandled by a school resource officer. The young woman, an African-American, said she was breaking up a fight between a sister and other student when the school resource officer came from behind her and slammed her on the ground. That is the most recent of cases where an African-American student has been mistreated by a police officer. One may argue that the Rolesville case is an isolated incident. I offer to those individuals the incident of a South Carolina African-American student who was slammed and dragged out of a classroom by a police officer and the case of an African-American student who was tasered by a police officer after a fight the student was in as proof that Rolesville is not an isolated incident.

According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice showed that schools with school-based police officers have higher arrest rates for disorderly conduct than those without.[1] According to a 2015 study using data from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that 61 percent of thefts at schools with police officers were referred to law enforcement, compared to 29 percent without.[2] These truths are worse for Black students. Throughout the United States, African-American students are more likely to be removed from classrooms for what teachers deem as poor conduct.[3] According to a 2014 U.S. Department of education report, while black students represented 16 percent of the nation’s public school population in the 2011-12 school year, they made up 31 percent of students subjected to school-related arrests.[4] This is the school-to-prison pipeline ladies and gentlemen – the over representation of people of color in detentions, suspensions and arrests.

So now, with all of that information, if you are working in an urban school or in a school with a 25% or greater population of Black and/or Latino student, what are you to do if a student is disruptive or if your students get into a fight… especially if you know the issue will be dealt with by a SRO? I believe that my series on cultural competency can help assist with classroom management issues, so I will digress on that area of concern. What I will focus on is fights. What should you do if you find yourself in the middle of a fight or potential fight in your classroom – especially if you have to wait minutes for an administrator to come to your classroom? Here are a few simple steps that may help you:


  1. PREVENT DEFENSE. In football, the prevent defense is where the linebackers and defense backs retreat to way behind the line of scrimmage, usually close to their goal line, to prevent the offense from scoring a touchdown. That offense may get yards, but they don’t score. You have to take that approach in the classroom. Diffuse any potential physical confrontation in your room. Kids may get their feelings hurt, you may have to write an incident report and call parents, but if you can prevent a fight, you’ve prevented suspensions. Diffuse immediately if you can. As a last resort, threaten to call a dean or the principal as a scare tactic. If this doesn’t work and students begin to fight…
  2. IMMEDIATELY CALL THE TEACHER NEXT DOOR. This may seem odd. You may be wondering, “why not call the dean or principal?” If you call the dean or principal, they maybe in the middle of another incident – they may not get to you as soon as you’d assume. Calling a teacher next door or across the hall is for two reasons. (1) have them call the dean or principal. You don’t have time to explain what’s happening and why; an administrator may ask you this. They are on a need to know mindset. You just want them upstairs. You need to focus on diffusing and controlling the room. Your attention cannot be with explaining to an administrator all that is going on. (2) telling another teacher is let another adult know that there is something going on in your room. They may be able to assist you faster than an administrator can. After you’ve called the teacher…
  3. ATTEMPT TO SEPARATE THE STUDENTS (If you are comfortable) – There is a tricky and nuanced way to doing this. If you are a female teacher and two males are fighting or you are a male teacher and two females are fighting, use your discretion. Let’s run down what to do by following the rubric below:
Boy v. Boy Girl v. Girl Boy v. Girl Multiple People
Elementary Teacher (any gender) Break up the fight; separate the students Break up the fight; separate the students Break up the fight; separate the students Call an administrator and attempt to break it up (with other teachers)
Middle/Secondary Male Teacher Break up the fight; separate the students Ask a student to find a female teacher and ask young ladies to help break up the fight Break up the fight; separate the students Call an administrator and attempt to break it up (with other teachers)
Middle/Secondary Female Teacher Ask a student to find a male teacher and ask young men to help you break up the fight Break up the fight; separate the students Break up the fight; separate the students Call an administrator and attempt to break it up (with other teachers)

Whenever you break up a fight, never put your hands on students. Use your body as a barrier to separate students. If a boy is fighting a girl, it is viewed as natural to physically interject yourself to prevent harm coming to the young lady – even if she is holding her own. A fight between a boy and a girl is an elevated circumstance that changes the consequences of what you do or fail to do. In the case of two people fighting when they are a different gender than you, first you ask a student to find you a teacher who is the same sex of the combatants and ask students of the same gender to help you break up the fight. Normally, you wouldn’t ask students to interject themselves, but doing this does a few things. It offers a witness in case someone says you touched them inappropriately. It also provides immediate help to stopping the fight. Lastly, it turns students from potential instigators into immediate peacemakers.

  1. REMOVE 1 OF THE 2 STUDENTS FROM THE CLASSROOM. Once you’ve broken up the fight, get one of the students out of the room. Your job is to now serve as a physical barrier between the two fighting students. You stand in the door with one foot in the classroom and one foot in the hallway and wait for an administrator to arrive. If this doesn’t work for you, send one of the two student to another classroom; preferably the classroom of the teacher you’ve informed in step 2.
  2. WRITE DOWN A DETAILED REPORT OF WHAT HAPPENED. Once the fight has been stopped and students have been separated, get control of your classroom and write down what happened. If your school has an incident reporting system, write it there. If not, send an email to the appropriate administrator and ask for a read receipt. Make sure that you detail everything that happened to protect yourself and all of the students in the classroom. Make sure that you keep a copy for your records. If you have an incident reporting system at your school, email the report to an administrator anyway and ask for a read receipt.

All of these steps are to help you when a fight happens on your watch, because it will happen. But also, considering the statistics mentioned above and the fact that your schools probably have high concentrations of Black and Latino students, you want to protect them from the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids fight. That is normal. What is not normal is arresting them or physically harming them because of it. Disproportionate numbers of Black children arrested by the police is inexcusable and downright disgusting. Let’s do our part to prevent disproportionate representation in our schools.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!


More Resources Discussing the Harm of School Resource Officers:

Police Do More Harm Than Good –

All Over The Country, Kids Are Getting Shocked With Tasers And Sprayed With Chemicals In School –

Bullied By The Badge –

U.S. Department of Education Data Collection School Discipline Snapshot –






One thought on “How To Handle A Fight

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