Tracking reports of fights, drugs and gangs at Houston-area schools

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A Houston mother's worst fears were confirmed when video surfaced on social media showing her daughter being attacked in the hallway of her middle school.

Sharee Henderson said the seeds of the fight were planted months before the confrontation.

"She came home from school one day and she seemed a little worried," Henderson said.

Henderson said her 12-year-old daughter was being bullied by a classmate at Lewis Middle School in Aldine ISD. Henderson said she addressed the problem with campus administrators, who assured her the students would be kept away from one another.

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"I knew it was making my daughter's self-esteem go down. Like, I knew it was. I seen the way she would come home from school every day," Henderson said.

The girl's older sister also provided counsel to her sibling.

"I'm just, like, if she don't touch you, don't say nothing, don't entertain it, because it's not worth it," Azaria McClendon said.

Henderson said tensions eased, but hallway rumors provoked a confrontation. Henderson said her daughter was attacked by her classmate. Video of the fight quickly made its way on to social media.

"It was scary because, to know somebody put their hands on my daughter," Henderson said. "I was so hurt and mad and angry."

Henderson said she was told the other girl was punished for starting the fight.

"It gives me relief, but the way bullying is in these schools nowadays it's not enough relief, because it could be somebody else," Henderson said.

Officials with Aldine ISD couldn't comment directly on this situation but sent KPRC a written statement.

"Aldine ISD promotes a safe learning environment for all students, as such, the district does not tolerate fighting on its campuses. To deter inappropriate behavior, campus administrators and staff are visible during all transition periods, cameras are placed throughout the building in high traffic areas, and police officers are assigned to secondary campuses. Additionally, counselors are always available to assist students in finding new ways to manage their emotions and make responsible decisions," the statement read. "Students who are involved in physical altercations could face several sanctions ranging from in-school suspension up to placement in the district's alternative education program ("DAEP"). If warranted, criminal charges may be filed."

When KPRC looked at state records for Lewis, we saw 42 fights reported last school year. However, this was far from the most reported on a Houston-area campus.

KPRC reviewed five years of disciplinary records from the Texas Education Agency. These records contain individual campus reports of problems ranging from code of conduct violations to assaults. KPRC specifically looked at fights, drugs and gang activity across the Houston area.

In the category of fighting, some campuses in Spring ISD posted higher numbers across all five years. Bammel Middle School is one campus reporting anywhere from 76 to 160 fights over five school years.

Spring ISD officials sent KPRC a statement when asked how the district was addressing this problem.

"Disruptions to the school day are not tolerated on any of our campuses and fighting definitely falls into that category. We are very conscientious about investigating and reporting every incident, taking appropriate disciplinary action and involving parents and guardians in the process," the statement reads.

The district listed several steps it has taken to address the number of fights on campuses:

  • We are opening three new ninth grade centers in fall 2020, one at each of our comprehensive high schools, which will relieve crowding at Dekaney, Spring and Westfield high school campuses.
  • We are opening two new middle schools this fall -- Spring Leadership Academy and Springwoods Village Middle School -- which will ease congestion at the middle school level as well.
  • We have successfully piloted restorative discipline practices at two middle schools -- Bammel and Claughton -- and will be implementing restorative discipline practices across the district during the 2019-20 school year.
  • We are continuing to monitor social media to identify potential threats so we can respond proactively.
  • We include conflict resolution and/or classroom management techniques within our professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators.
  • We recently purchased additional metal detectors for the middle school level that will expand their use, from random checks, to every student, every day -- much like we currently have in place at our high schools. We are implementing a pilot project at middle schools this spring in preparation for the full implementation when school starts next fall.

In Galena Park ISD, North Shore High School reported between 78 and 124 fights. The district has also taken several steps to address these fights. District administrators point out North Shore is the largest school in our region and the number of fight reported is small when compared to a student population of 4,775 students.

The district also sent a written statement.

"Because North Shore Senior High School is the largest school in Region 4 with 4,775 students, we are seldom surprised to see the campus near the top of any spreadsheet which includes raw numbers. As a matter of fact, North Shore Senior High School has as many students as the top three schools combined on the spreadsheet with the data for fighting. We are truly appreciative to have the opportunity to put some of this raw data into context since we believe it tells a much truer story of the positive trend happening at this campus," the statement reads.

"Based on the 17-18 data for drug offenses, North Shore Senior High School's 74 incidents represent less than 2% of the total student population at the school (1.6%). The 5-year trend in this category also indicates a 34.5% decrease in drug-related offenses. We believe several programs and interventions the school and district have implemented are having very positive effects. Galena Park ISD and NSSH have an aggressive enforcement of codes related to drug offenses. We understand raw numbers may not always tell the whole story; however, many times this enforcement is also the catalyst for students and parents to get the needed assistance with problems. Our district conducts random drug testing for students in all extra-curricular activities and for those students whose parents opt in to the program. A district-wide drug counselor and a partnership with the Harris County Department of Education's Fortis Academy afford students the assistance needed to help overcome the issues with which they are faced while helping them maintain an academic focus," administrators wrote. "Based on the 17-18 data for fighting, North Shore Senior High School's 78 incidents also represent less than 2% of the total student population at the school. The 5-year trend in this category also indicates a 24% decrease in student altercations. Since this is the largest school in the region, the district has worked over the past few years to lower the number of students in any one location at a given time. In 2015, we opened our CTE Early College High School, and in 2016 our community overwhelmingly supported a bond referendum, which included the building of a North Shore 10th Grade Center. Increasing the number of deputies and administrators at the campus further ensured their effectiveness with proactive and preventative supervision. In addition to the above-mentioned interventions implemented, Galena Park ISD also provides numerous services to address the multitude of needs our students may have, whether behavioral or emotional in nature. Additional counselors and advisors have been added to each of our high schools over the past five years. These individuals work to identify specific student needs and connect families with community resources. Our district employs three Social Service Specialists, who work closely with our families who find themselves in crisis situations. Galena Park ISD maintains healthy partnerships with community service agencies and makes referrals as appropriate. It has always been and will continue to be the mission and desire of Galena Park ISD to ensure a safe and secure environment for both our students and staff. We will always strive to have 'no incidents' in the categories you are currently researching, but we are well-prepared to address any situation which may arise with serving not only the 4,775 students of North Shore Senior High School, but the 22,500 students in Galena Park ISD. We believe the positive trend in the data is very representative of the diligent work our campus and district administrators conduct daily, as well as the amazing student population at North Shore Senior High School."

In the category of drugs, HISD's Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology center reported between 62 to 101 incidents. Cy-Fair ISD's Cy-Ridge high school reported between 58 and 108 incidents.

HISD's response is as follows: "Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center High School has implemented several initiatives, resources, and restorative justice practices to best support students and their families in dealing with substance abuse. These include mentorship and prevention programs such as Ascending to Men, TAPS Academy and Social Justice Learning Institute; intervention programs such as Education First and The SHAC (Sam Houston Alternative Center); and counseling. All instances of students found under the influence or in possession of illegal substances are documented so school leaders can identify students and families who may need wraparound support services. While school leadership prefers more restorative practices, the school also has full-time HISD police officers present on campus as a precautionary measure. HISD remains steadfast in its pledge to educate and keep every child safe."

Cy-Fair also sent KPRC a written statement.

"As part of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD's proactive discipline management practice, students participate in Project Safety lessons focused on drug prevention. These lessons are taught monthly in grades K-12 and emphasize students making healthy choices, positive ways to refuse drugs if offered to them and the importance of a safe and drug-free environment. Every October, we celebrate Red Ribbon Week, where students engage in various anti-drug activities at their respective campuses," the statement reads.

"Ensuring that our campuses are safe and drug-free are made possible by frequent, routine searches for prohibited objects or substances using CFISD police officers and trained dogs. As part of CFISD's Safety and Security Action plan for the 2018-2019 school year, the district purchased three canines, two specifically trained to conduct drug searches and one trained to identify black powder, in addition to searches performed by Interquest, a national provider of trained canines. Also, Cy-Fair Tipline, an anonymous tip line, is a valuable tool for students to notify school administrators of possible drugs on campus. Administrators and campus police immediately investigate all reported tips. If a student is found to be in possession of prohibited objects or substances, including a vehicle on school property, the student is subject to disciplinary action. CFISD is committed to providing a safe school environment for every student and staff member."

In the category of gangs, Alief ISD's Elsik high school reported some of the highest numbers across five years, between six and 13 incidents.

"The safety of our students and staff is our top priority. We use an aggressive, proactive approach to keep gang activity, or perceived gang-like behavior out of our schools. Through specialized training, we not only identify potential gang members, but also identify those who may be 'gang-curious.' Our intervention techniques help to maintain a safe learning environment for our students," Alief ISD's statement reads.

KPRC also spoke with the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, Zeph Capo.

"How much does outside environment impact what happens in a school?" Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold asked.

"Tremendous impact," Capo said.

Capo said, no matter the district, problems at a school tend to mirror what's happening in the surrounding neighborhood.

"(Students) still have to live in the surrounding area and they bring that baggage with them."

Capo said teachers can get overwhelmed with their main job of educating students while watching for problems they may bring to campus.

"They absorb and they are a reflection of all the good and all the bad things happening in that area," Capo said.

When you look at the database, you will see several disciplinary categories reporting 1-4 incidents. When there are fewer than five incidents reported in a particular disciplinary category, the TEA does not give a specific number, citing privacy laws. Instead the TEA will put the code "-999." KPRC replaced "-999" with 1-4 because the TEA confirms this code means there were between 1-4 incidents reported by a campus.

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