Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Aug. 9, 2022

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VPS releases more details on Gaiser Middle School melee

Police shootings may have played role, speakers at board meeting say

By , Columbian Education Reporter

Vancouver Public Schools on Tuesday offered more details on a March 15 brawl at Gaiser Middle School that ended in the arrest of nine children. Community members, meanwhile, called on the district to use the incident as an opportunity to reflect on how students of color have been impacted by recent police shootings.

According to the updated statement from the school district, three students got into a confrontation at a middle school basketball tournament that evening, escalating into a “disturbance” involving 50 students and, eventually, the response of more than 30 law enforcement officials.

“The issue reached a tipping point when several students assaulted district security officers as they attempted to remove a student from the school because of a confrontation with two other students,” according to the district statement. “The security officers were hit, pushed and punched by students.”

From there, 28 students from seven schools were placed on emergency expulsion, a 10-day period allowing the school to investigate and determine final disciplinary action. That’s up from the 27 the district originally reported. Nine of those students also were arrested, and two face felony charges.

“We’ve established processes for students who have been suspended or expelled to continue their learning,” the district said in the statement. “Demonstrate accountability, and re-enter the classroom in a responsible, productive manner.”

It’s unclear what prompted the original fight between the three students. A student who witnessed and shot video of the incident said it seemed most of the students arrested or expelled — herself included — were students of color.

Public commenters at Tuesday’s school board meeting expanded that narrative, suggesting the incident may have been a reaction to recent police shootings. Vancouver police officers were involved in four shootings in the span of five weeks. Three died, including two people of color: 16-year-old Clayton Joseph, who was Chuukese, and 43-year-old African-American man Carlos Hunter. Police said Joseph was armed with a knife and Hunter had a gun, and neither complied with officers’ orders.

Ophelia Noble, founder of The Noble Foundation, suggested recent shootings and the incident at Gaiser Middle School have damaged the relationships between people of color and public institutions like the school district.

“There needs to be a moment where we take a step back and we decide what type of community we’re going to be,” she said.

Cecelia Towner, founder of the local Black Lives Matter chapter, called the Gaiser incident an “honest response” to recent shootings, and called on the adults in the room to “listen to them.”

“These children have grown up in a world that most of us have not,” Towner said. “They grew up in a time of watching police shootings.”

Patricia Skinner Patterson, the mother of a high school student in the Vancouver school district, said she is “deeply troubled” by recent shootings and how they may have influenced the breakdown at Gaiser. Following Joseph’s death, her son and his friends “shut down.”

“I watched in utter despair and disbelief as my 16-year-old son and his friend group of approximately 10 vivacious and usually very chatty kids shut down and would not talk,” she said.

“This was so out of character, and this group of kids are white and white presenting,” she continued. “And I wondered what must those teens of brown skin and black skin be experiencing.”

The relatively short comment period comes on the tails of a two-hour public forum at Vancouver City Hall on Monday. Dozens of people, including Hunter’s sister, called on the Vancouver Police Department to work to hold transparent investigations into the shootings, wear body cameras and improve its relationships with the community.

Columbian Education Reporter

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