A “gang-related” fight broke out in the halls of Schenectady High School on Monday morning, leaving at least six students potentially facing longterm suspensions, according to school district officials.
District spokeswoman Karen Corona said school and district officials think the fight was “gang related,” and the aunt of one of the students involved said her nephew was “jumped” by a group of other kids who attacked him as part of a gang-initiation activity the other kids were participating in. She said her nephew was not involved in gang activity and hadn’t been involved in fights at the school before.
That student’s mom, Cristy Riglioni, spoke up during Wednesday night’s school board meeting, urging school board members and district leaders to do more to protect students from the kind of attack she said her son faced earlier this week. After making public comments, she also expressed frustration that the district described the incident as “gang-related” and potentially implicating her son in that activity.
“It’s sickening, it’s heartbreaking, it’s horrible, this is not the only student attacked by this group,” she said of the incident. “They are coming to school prepared to fight. You can’t come to school prepared to fight and get an education, it’s not gonna happen.”
The fight, video of which spread on social media this week, also appeared to spur an outpouring of emotions, frustration and fear at Wednesday night’s board meeting.
More than a dozen parents turned out to the meeting, detailing serious incidents they and their kids have experienced in Schenectady schools and expressing deep concern for their children’s safety. They called on the board and their fellow parents to focus on student safety above all else. One parent asked those in the crowd to raise their hands if they fear for their children’s safety and a room full of hands shot to the air. Another parent said her daughter is a high school senior and thinks this has been the worst year at the high school in at least four years.
“It’s not just this woman’s son, it’s several fights going on in this building, several fights a day,” the woman said.
But a student also spoke up to say she feels safe at the high school, using air quotes to say “gang” as she questioned whether it was a fair description of students. She said people should reach out to those kids to understand what they are dealing with.
“Why instead aren’t you reaching out to kids in gangs supposedly and asking them how things are going?” said Lizzie Tchako, a high school junior who is active in a student advocacy group at the school. “You are kicking people out for being in a gang: what is that doing for them?”
A video of the fight Monday shows one student trashing-talking and getting closer and closer to another student in the middle of a school hallway before the student being approached tackled the other student to the ground; a group of four or five other boys, who had been circling as the two other boys got closer and closer, immediately joined the fray, throwing punches and trying to kick the student who appeared to be on his own as a group of other kids went after him.
Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said the fight was part of a wider uptick in suspected gang-related incidents the school has seen this year. He said the fight carried the “hallmarks” of gang activity, including the large group of kids involved and details like how a video recording of the fight captured the moments before the fight even began.
“(I am) noticing an increase in the number of incidents high school administrators are saying, we think there was some gang affiliation associated with this,” Spring said Wednesday.
Spring said district officials are trying to better understand whether the uptick they are seeing in school is reflected in the broader community and whether it would help to re-establish a group of district staff, probation officers and law enforcement that had regularly met in previous years when gang activity was a persistent issue. He said those issues had fallen off in recent years but appear to be on the rise again this year.
Amber Riglioni on Wednesday acknowledged her nephew can be seen tackling the other student in the video, but she said he was defending himself from a group of boys attacking him. She said the school has mishandled the situation, slapping her nephew with a 10-week suspension for what she said was the first time he was involved in a fight.
Riglioni, whose son is a ninth grader at the high school, also said she worried about her son’s safety and that she thinks school and district officials need to do more to protect students in the halls of the school.
“They have nothing but fights like this all the time,” she said. “This is nothing new, it’s just one hit the internet and got the attention of people.”
The video, which is about one minute and forty seconds long, shows a large group of a students watching as the fight unfolds for more than sixty seconds. At one point, a school staff person can be seen trying to break up the fight but it continued for at least another 20 seconds as students threw punches at one another.
Corona, the district spokeswoman, on Wednesday said school administrators continued to investigate the fight. She said six students were found to be directly involved in the fight and were scheduled for a superintendent’s hearing; students must go through a hearing before they can serve out a suspension of more than five days. Other students faced consequences as well for recording the fight or otherwise promoting it.
“Kids (are) bringing issues from the community into the school,” Corona said. “Sometimes the kids just show up and they start fighting.”
The fight on the video took place around 8:30 a.m. at the start of the school day, Corona said. She said one student was treated for a cut after the student’s mom took him to the hospital.