'This is not who Seabreeze is'
Volusia County School District officials have deemed the last two weeks' events at Seabreeze High School as a learning experience, though one Volusia County Schools Superintendent Tom Russell said is one they "never want to go through again."
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, 731 Seabreeze High School students — 44% of the school's 1,650 students — stayed home after seeing an alleged gun threat on social media. This came after an on-campus fight on Thursday, Feb. 14, and another off-campus fight on Friday, Feb. 15, between what two students told Daytona Beach Police were altercations between black and white students. A 15-year-old student who police believe to have had a box cutter during the off-campus fight on Feb. 15, was arrested later that day. The student denied having it during the fight.
Then, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, a group of students got into a confrontation with some construction workers in the Dollar General parking lot near the school. Video taken by students shows the parties yelling racial slurs at each other. In connection with that altercation, DBPD arrested another 15-year-old student involved.
Finally on Thursday, Feb. 21, police arrested 18-year-old Joshua Nankivell for trespassing after he walked on campus and acted like a student while wearing a red Volusia County Schools jacket. DBPD reported this was the second time Nakivell had been trespassed from the school; he went on campus and impersonated a student back in Sept. 26, 2018 as well.
Now, moving on from those events, the School District is looking at implementing a lanyard and ID card system. Russell said this will help school administration and faculty identify students and monitor closely who is actually allowed to leave campus. New Smyrna Beach High School has already implemented student ID cards.
“This just adds another level of security," Russell said.
The superintendent said anytime a situation like this happens in a school, officials need to take a step back and look at current practices. Shortly after the events, Russell said a team was sent to look at the campus and examine the "ebb and flow" of the day to be able to make mandatory recommendations to increase security and improve school operations.
And while Seabreeze was the catalyst for looking at these changes, it won't stop there.
“We are going to move forward and look at all of our secondary schools to make sure the best practices are in place," Russell said.
'Part of growing up'
Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri addressed the incidents surrounding Seabreeze on the Marc Bernier Show on Wednesday, Feb. 20. He said that the school was safe, and that social media can do a lot of damage with situations like this.
He said the fights were "over spilled milk," and had been festering for a couple of months. One student is being expelled, he said on-air, and several have been suspended. Police also couldn't find credibility to the gun threat allegedly posted on social media.
“At the end of the day, these are young men and women that have futures and they’re probably not thinking rationally right now, and we’d hate to see that jam them up for the future when they’ll regret it 10, 12 years down the road when they’re getting out of college and looking at maybe getting a job somewhere and this comes up on the record," said Capri on the show. "They don’t need this stuff.”
He said he didn't see it as a race issue. There were kids of each race on both sides of the argument. There were no injuries, and the only weapons found were a box cutter and a knife. Once the students come back from suspension, Capri said DBPD plans to speak to them to see if both sides can come to a resolution.
“Kids fight unfortunately," Capri said. "It’s a part of growing up.”
One parent, who asked to remain anonymous per her daughter's wishes, said she thought Capri's spilled milk comment on the show was "infuriating." She was one of the parents that kept her children from school following the gun threat scare. Mass shootings are a scary conversation to have with children nowadays, and she said the only way to fix it is by implementing metal detectors.
“My daughter will not die in a school shooting," she said.
She received word from administration that the issue had been resolved, but she still believes issues are present. Her daughter said it was a racial fight, though police and school officials are saying otherwise. She was disappointed that her daughter only saw one officer on campus on Wednesday, Feb. 20, when she returned to school. That's not enough, she said.
“To brush all this stuff under the rug is a mistake on their behalf," she said.
Another parent, who also wished to remain anonymous, said she was also one of the parents who kept her child home from school on Tuesday, Feb. 19, after she saw the messages on social media.
"Initially I thought I should make her go, but then thought what if there is a gun incident and I sent her knowing I was warned," she said in an email. "I couldn’t live with that."
However, she had a different take on the incidents. She said Seabreeze High School Principal Joe Rawlings "is a really good man. He always roots for the underdog kids as long as they behave in school." She said he is an advocate for troubled kids because he himself grew up in extreme poverty.
The Ormond Beach Observer asked Rawlings for an interview about the incidents, both directly and through the School District's spokesperson, and he declined to speak, citing unavailability.
The parent continued to say in her email that her child was irritated that the kids responsible for the fights could cause the upperclassmen to lose their off-campus lunch privileges. She also said missing a day of school is difficult to make up, especially due to rigorous class schedules and activities.
Her child is proud of Seabreeze, the parent said, and doesn't like the reputation it got from the incidents.
"It’s not an accurate image of Seabreeze HS," she said. "It’s been known as a long time great school. It’s all very sad. There are just too many kids who don’t have a strong loving family foundation and this seems to be the result of that. Misplaced anger."
'This is not who Seabreeze is'
Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis, who represents District 4 where Seabreeze High School is located, said that as a former school principal, he can understand how these incidents can happen.
“It just hurt me, obviously as a Seabreeze graduate, to see how the actions of a few students can get in the news and taint the school’s reputation," he said.
But that's what could happen to any school, Persis said — a handful of students "dead-set" on wanting to cause a disruption go off-campus because they know they could get suspended or expelled if they cause a fight on school grounds. Persis said as far he is aware, the number of students involved in the altercation is less than 10.
“Seabreeze doesn’t really have much of a tolerance for any of that sort of thing," Persis said.
The school is a safe place, he said. Being around students all of his life, Persis said he knows how kids can talk each other into doing "immature things" to stick up for one another. He believes social media didn't portray an accurate picture of the events.
"It can look like mayhem in a video, seeing like four or five kids fighting," he said. "But what about the 1,600 that weren’t fighting and were just going about their business peacefully?”
But, one of the takeaways for Persis was that when schools have incidents, no matter how minor or major, the school should inform the parents and staff. Principals can't be too diligent in spreading accurate information before social media becomes the source, he said.
He said he knows it also bothers the teachers who interact with the students every day. He said the teachers are saying this is not who Seabreeze is.
“Seabreeze is an excellent school with a fantastic staff and strong leadership," Persis said. "That’s who Seabreeze is.”
Russell said both DBPD and the Ormond Beach Police Department were "exceptional" to work with, and that he's appreciative of all the help they gave to the Seabreeze High School community.
He said the School District is advocating for parents, teachers and staff to download the Fortify Florida app to report suspicious activity on school campuses. Volusia was one of the first districts in the state to introduce the app into the county.
Through it all, Russell said he was impressed with Seabreeze High School's faculty's willingness to help. It was obvious how much they cared for the school, he said.
“That school has a long rich tradition," Russell said. "We do not want anything like this to happen again and we’re going to work very hard so that it does not.”