Video of St. Johns County middle school student attack spurs criticism of district’s cell phone policy

Principal issued warning against students recording video on school grounds. Parents say video clip of attack helped expose problem

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Parents and News4JAX Insiders are weighing in after a video of a violent attack against a Switzerland Point Middle School student circulated Wednesday throughout the St. Johns County school community.

The video appears to show an SPMS student beating another student over the head and repeatedly kicking the student when they dropped to the ground. The attacked student then ran out of the classroom.

According to multiple witness accounts, the skirmish between the two students continued in the school’s hallway and resulted in blood having to be cleaned from the wall and floor of the hallway. The student who was attacked suffered a fractured nose and multiple bruises from the attack, which the school described as a “fight” in an email late Thursday.

One particular part of the principal’s message drew scrutiny from the parents of the student who was attacked.

“Please remind your child that recording videos on campus and disseminating them is a direct violation of the SJCSD Code of Conduct. This district policy is to protect the privacy of all students,” wrote Principal Linda Carnall. “Please encourage your child to tell an adult on campus if they hear or see anything involving the safety of our campus, so we can intervene prior to an incident occurring.”

Like many in Florida, St. Johns County School District prohibits the recording of video or capturing of photos on school grounds.

“The purpose of this general rule is to foster an appropriate educational environment, prevent unwarranted disclosure of student images and information, and to comply with the requirements of the negotiated agreement with the St. Johns Education Association,” the SJCSD Student Code of Conduct states in it’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and Internet Safety Policy Guidelines for Students and Visitors.

The parents of the child who was attacked Wednesday told News4JAX that the existence of the video clip showing the incident is perhaps the only thing that spurred public outcry for answers, and brought an issue of safety, security and discipline to the attention of the school’s stakeholders.

“From a parent’s point of view, I couldn’t watch it,” the student’s mother said. “I tried to watch it, it got me very emotional, but without that video, it would have been hearsay... So, although the person who took the video, sent it out virally, and all the kids, everybody on social media are seeing it and making comments, it’s crucial for me now to be able to have that to show how my son was assaulted and couldn’t defend himself, and that nobody in the classroom came to his aid.”

Several News4JAX Insiders raised a similar concern with the rule against video recording on campuses when applied to instances that may constitute a crime, particularly a violent one.

“I’m glad it was recorded,” wrote Insider JustmyOpinion. “Now, there is proof and it cannot be covered up.”

“Change that stupid policy,” wrote Insider Larry Mendez. “How are families going to see what is actually happening in the schools if the students don’t step up and record these issues.”

A spokesperson for the St. Johns County School District addressed the issue in an emailed response Wednesday.

“The school and the district take all acts of inappropriate conduct seriously. The school’s primary concern in the matter referenced was the student’s well-being. The student videoing and posting on social networking was addressed as well through the course of the school-based investigation. Unauthorized recording or videoing is a Level III violation of the student code of conduct. It was clear that the intent behind this videotaping was not to assist the school with evidence collection or resolution to this matter.”

Emailed statement from Christina Upchurch, spokesperson for the St. Johns County School District

Upchurch added that the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which burdens publically funded educational institutions with the protection of educational records, prohibits the district from releasing any video of students on campus, as such media would be considered an educational record.

About the Author:

Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.