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October 7, 2022
West High and the ICCSD are no strangers to fights taking place on school grounds.
An incident reportedly broke out March 24 at Northwest Junior High. After the final bell rang, an older teenager who did not attend Northwest met a 14-year-old Northwest student outside of the school to fight. Amidst the normal after-school commotion of vehicles driving in and students filing out, administrators had a difficult time breaking up the fight themselves, causing then-principal Elizabeth Bruening to call the police.
“Most people do not want to go to jail,” said Shane Kron, the Coralville Chief of Police. “So when the police lights first start flashing or they first hear the siren, that’s usually when most fights are over. But in this particular case, it was not. They continued to fight; they continued to be aggressive. Even when we had officers on scene, they called for more officers. We ended up with everybody we had available over there.”
Current Northwest student Momo Shinozaki ’27 describes how she felt while watching that particular fight.
“It just felt uncomfortable, especially when the police [were] called,” Shinozaki said. “It had gotten to the point where even teachers were being punched. People from other schools got involved too. [I] felt like it escalated very quickly and it was out of control.”
The Iowa City Press Citizen’s coverage of the event brought more attention to exactly what went on at Northwest that day. Although police, teachers and administrators describe this occurrence as an anomaly, Jordan comments on the other numerous, but smaller fights that took place at Northwest throughout the 2021-22 school year.
“I wasn’t very proud of my school last year,” Jordan said. “I would tell people about the fights, and they’d be like, ‘Why do you sound so nonchalant?’ I’m like, ‘Because it happens [a lot].’ I’m used to it now. I don’t always act super surprised when it happens, because it doesn’t faze me very much anymore.”
I’m used to it now. I don’t always act super surprised when it happens, because it doesn’t faze me very much anymore.”
— Franny Jordan '26
Northwest has experienced many changes in administration the past few years, including a new principal and assistant principal this year. Altering a school’s administration can result in difficult and confusing adjustments for students and teachers.
“Every set of admin has their ideas of what they want the school to look like and how they want the school to run,” Busch said. “Then the ones that are in charge of putting that in place are the teachers. It’s hard for teachers to be consistent with those things.”
During the 2021-22 school year, Jordan felt as if there were a multitude of new rules frequently implemented at Northwest. Jordan believes these changes created tension between students and teachers at the school.
“Say a student never did anything wrong. [If they] walk out of the classroom, slam the door and yell at the teacher, they would get in trouble,” Jordan said. “For kids who do that every day, [the teacher] wouldn’t even blink. The kids who get in trouble more often, they would have less punishments. There was kind of nothing to lose. [The teachers] were tired of us. We were tired of them.”
Due to new methods of rule implementation, Northwest feels more secure to Shinozaki this year.
“[We have a] new principal this year, and she’s more strict with these rules. It feels safer … I think it’s better that it’s organized,” Shinozaki said.
According to Shinozaki, the new principal offers prize incentives to motivate students.
“For each student who doesn’t get a major referral, their name will be added into a drawing, and at the end of the year, [the principal] will draw five names,” Shinozaki said. “Those five students will get $100 from the principal and can pick three friends that will also get $25.”
Many factors play into the materialization of a fight, and sometimes an incentive is not enough to prevent one from breaking out. When a fight actually unfolds, a different component comes into play: bystanders. While there might be only two people engaged in a fight, many watch from a distance and choose not to intervene.
“Oftentimes, bystanders are perceived as accepting [the fight]. People are just standing by watching this; they’re not jumping in to stop it,” said Dr. Alison Bianchi, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology and director for the Center for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Iowa.
The West High Mentors in Violence Prevention, or MVP, program advisor and counselor Paul Breitbach believes that intervening in situations is an important skill to learn not only for school, but for life.
“Usually ‘bystander’ has a negative connotation … The big goal [of MVP] would be to empower young people to realize that they have the power to intervene,” Breitbach said.
Cooper shares the same view as Breitbach.
“When bystanders do not intervene and do not attempt to support others, they’re encouraging a violent community,” Cooper said. “It is 100 percent on other kids to put phones away, to help de-escalate, step in [and say], ‘Hey, you don’t want to do this. First of all, you don’t want to get suspended. But more importantly, you don’t want to get hit. You don’t want to get hurt.’”