Video raises new concerns about Caesar Rodney High altercation

Cellphone video of an altercation in the Caesar Rodney High cafeteria Tuesday. (Submitted to the Delaware State News)

CAMDEN — A tumultuous week at Caesar Rodney High included a Tuesday afternoon altercation between two students, one who was issued a criminal summons for offensive touching.

The incident was recorded in a 13-second cell phone video that was posted on social media and received a wave of publicity Friday as it spread.

The family of the 14-year-old special needs student seen being repeatedly punched on the video by a 15-year-old, wonders why the school district did not denounce the incident publicly until after the footage emerged.

Diane Eastburn, an advocate for 107 parents of special needs children in three states, pointed to CR’s strong response to an online image of someone dressed as the high school’s mascot holding a racially charged message Wednesday.

Two students were identified as suspects Thursday and suspended from school with expulsion possible.

According to the Caesar Rodney School District policy manual on its website, a recommendation of expulsion may follow a hearing with the student, parents or guardians, school principal or designee, and district superintendent. If the superintendent recommends expulsion, a hearing is then scheduled with the school’s board of education.

“The superintendent was very forceful and correct in making it clear that the mascot incident was unacceptable to any standard of behavior and would not be tolerated,” Ms. Eastburn said.

“Nobody was physically hurt over those words. Here a student was atrociously beaten and it received no attention publicly until the video surfaced.

“The superintendent was absolutely right to denounce the mascot incident, but he needs to denounce everything.”

On Friday afternoon after the video was posted by media, school district Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald released a statement that read:

“Recently a fight that previously took place in the Caesar Rodney High School cafeteria has been posted to the Internet.

“This situation in no way is related to the recent mascot post.

“After an investigation by the school administration and the Delaware State Police, disciplinary action was taken and an arrest was made.

“Fights of this nature, while rare are unacceptable and are not tolerated in Caesar Rodney. The District will continue to work hard to insure the safety of our students.”

Attempts to reach Dr. Fitzgerald to ask additional questions Friday were unsuccessful.

On Friday, the 14-year-old’s mother, Rose Boyles, said her son “is hanging in there the best he can but is missing out on his schooling.”

Mrs. Boyles and her husband Robert said they were told by the school that no video of the incident was recorded due to a lack of cameras in the area.

Mrs. Boyles said she was first notified of the cellphone video post by another parent who had seen it online.

“I was told by the school that it was a mutual confrontation, but the video showed otherwise,” she said.

The cellphone video changed the tenor of the response that followed, Ms. Eastburn said.

“Until the point that the video came out, it was one kid’s word against another kid’s word,” said Ms. Eastburn. “Now you can watch it and choose what you want to believe.”

The Delaware State Police confirmed an incident occurred in the school’s cafeteria at around 12:35 p.m.

Trouble between the two boys had been simmering for some time, Ms. Eastburn said, and the 14-year-old had been given a two-day in-school suspension for using offensive language toward the 15-year-old.

She said the school district cited student confidentiality and would not reveal if any disciplinary action was taken against the 15-year-old.
Police said the 15-year-old was issued a criminal summons for offensive touching and released to his parents.

The 14-year-old boy was evaluated afterward by a school nurse after the altercation, who advised him to see a doctor. A doctor’s examination led him to stay home Wednesday, Ms. Eastburn said.

According to Ms. Eastburn, the boy suffered a bruised face, cuts above and below his eyes, knots on the back of his head and a mark from a punch or shoe in his neck area.

On Thursday, the boy returned to school at 7:30 a.m. for about half an hour before calling his parents and asking to leave.

“He told his mom ‘Come and get me,’ ” Ms. Eastburn said. “There’s bad vibes in this building and I want out.’ ”

The student was picked up from school by his father and hasn’t returned since. Mrs. Boyles said a school district official called her later Thursday “and asked, ‘what do you want?’

“I said I want them to assure my son’s safety. So far they have given me no assurance of his safety.”

The Boyles are appealing the two-day suspension and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning at the district’s central office.

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