Students are forgetting what school is like. They’re forgetting that there was a normal life before COVID-19.
And they’re forgetting there are consequences to offensive behaviors.
At Carson High School this year, as of Oct. 18, 14 fights have occurred on campus, including nine freshmen, 10 sophomores, 11 juniors and two seniors, Superintendent Richard Stokes reported during the Oct. 26 Carson City school board meeting.
These incidents have resulted in arrests and citations, he said, with the individuals involved facing long-term suspensions or limited expulsions.
“When you think about students who have not been in school, not only have they not been in school, but when the pandemic came in school, everything stopped,” Stokes said. “Think about the student activities that are a part of our community, from Little League to the Boy Scouts, to Sunday school. All these things stopped.”
In recent weeks, parents and community members have expressed concerns that student fights and offensive behaviors are on the rise at Carson High School. Officials have offered their insight that while COVID-19 might be a contributing factor, others say it’s also easy to forget what life was before the pandemic.
‘Years to recovery’ until normalcy
Principal Bob Chambers oversees Carson High with 2,300 enrolled this year. Activities have been stripped down since the pandemic. Teachers adapted quickly, and students and families gradually did the same. Hybrid schedules, mask mandates and homework policies weighed down typical social interaction for the school’s intermediate students, and Carson’s culture, as in most public schools in America, feels different now that school is back five days a week.
Chambers described a “tension” in September throughout his school’s hallways simply by returning physically and being around so many people.
“It was like people were on edge across the board,” he said. “But providing the consistency of school five days a week, this rigorous education and the curriculum and all the accouterments that go with school – band concerts, soccer games, orchestra and all those things – kids had started to get back into the groove. And remember, this is school. This is what we do.
“When I’m in the hallways now, that underlying tension, I don’t feel it like I felt it. We’re still not normal. And I think people look at it like, if we take the masks off, if we do whatever the heck we want, it’ll go back to normal. No, this is going to be years of recovery.”
It might not be as prevalent now, three months into the semester, but Chambers said any anxiety amongst the student body felt merely by learning how to cooperate with each other.
“This isn’t just happening in Carson City,” he said. “But people in seat five days a week, in front of their teachers. In my mind, that is the most important thing we can provide: consistency in education, five days a week with their teachers. That is what going to get us to looking like normal, regular life again.”
For certain students who missed out on physically entering high school at the appropriate time, there were struggles once they did come back, Chambers explained.
“The majority of altercations are happening in the freshman and sophomore groups,” he said. “And what I have is a conjecture as to why this is happening. And the general hypothesis is our ninth graders haven’t been in formal school since the seventh grade.”
Carson High’s class of 2025, its incoming freshman group this year, welcomed 635 students in August, a large group to transition from the middle school level back into a full-time classroom setting after 18 months of hybrid, independent learning, Chambers said.
Despite their expertise at orientations, which provide about a month’s worth of classes teaching students how to adjust to high school, CHS staff members didn’t take into account certain factors assisting new students to adjust coming out of the hybrid model.
“We know how to do those (orientations),” Chambers said. “I don’t know if we understood what a stretch it was going to be for them. I don’t know if we considered the last time they were in regular school, they were seventh graders. And now here they are, back in regular school with 2,300 people. Here they are, making the adjustment.”
This has resulted in middle school behavior CHS previously never experienced, Chambers theorizes, and there’s a focus with the specific classes to mitigate some of the physical conflicts among the younger classes, and it typically includes the school’s younger male population. Freshman seminar classes, for instance, include conflict mediation because the ninth graders are struggling on campus and need to be shown physicality isn’t the way to deal with an issue. Older students are losing a sense of school spirit after time they’ve lost, he added, so other rebuilding activities are being incorporated.
“The other day, we had kids throwing raisins, like a big raisin, and it was like, ‘What are you doing? You guys pick that up. This is high school. That’s unacceptable behavior,’” Chambers said. “There’s a lot of retraining on school-appropriate behavior that over the last year and a half we’ve lost.”
Typically there’s a lack of maturity among the freshman boys that takes more time for them to develop.
“You definitely see that growth where they come in as freshman boys and they leave as senior men, 18-year-old men ready for the world, whereas the females come in, they’re more young women,” he said. “You don’t typically call them girls. They’re young women, and when they graduate they’re women. I think boys have a bigger hill to climb.”
Out of isolation
The district’s school resource officers, who make the citations and arrests as necessary, also retain a rapport with Carson High’s students, Chambers said.
“They’re in the hallways, they talk with the kids, they meet with kids, all the things you would want to see, and not in an official capacity,” he said.
Sgt. Matt Smith, who oversees Carson City Sheriff’s Office’s SROs, acknowledged the difficulties for students returning to a true, active state of socialization, saying the start to the 2021-22 year has been busy.
Yet, he doesn’t believe the statistics are beyond what would be expected given the circumstances.
“The kids are just starting to come back out from being isolated,” Smith said. “But it’s one of those things you have to take as what is true or what is not as true. … Some of the kids are acting like kids.”
Among the 14 incidents, some are considered assault and battery.
Smith said he has been listening to the public comment provided at recent school board meetings and said parents and community members have been vocal about incidents and face masks.
“We just forgot over a year how different it is,” Smith said.
Chambers said students who display social-emotional issues are welcome to the school’s resources at any time, adding any counselor, social worker or administrator has an open-door policy.
“We’re all available to our students in need,” he said. “It’s not for a lack of wishing it away and hoping it gets better if we ignore it. We’re working on it but it’s going to take time because it’s complex on the back end of altercations. If you are in a physical altercation, you don’t get to walk right back in.”
District spokesman Dan Davis said there also might be complexities beyond school life adding to students’ stress.
“People have a right to be angry at their circumstances, but what they don’t have a right to is acting out on their frustration in physical aspects because they’re frustrated,” Davis said. “To be a part of a society, you have to learn to control the behaviors that stem from your frustration.”
Chambers said overall, school now looks “very much like school.” As a parent with his own children enrolled in the district, he wants to be able to help fix the issue when he sees other youth in need acting out through fights or other offenses.
“We can always do a better job,” he said. “I am very proud that I live in Carson and raise my family in Carson City and I want this school to be a reflection of Carson City. … It’s not like we can raise our shoulders and go, ‘Oh, it’s going to be better.’ … It’s going to take time and that’s something people don’t like.
“Complex problems often take time. You keep grinding and keep working at it and examining it. You can’t just shove it under a rug, and I’m clearly open and honest about it. We work on it and it’s going to take time to fix.”