East Central ISD parents speak out following spate of violence | #schoolsaftey

East Central Independent School District parents spent the week airing their frustrations over school violence after a fight broke out in a particularly public place, the stands at a football game.

On Thursday night, many of them took those concerns to the school board, describing violent behavior as prevalent and appropriate consequences as lacking.

The East Central High School senior said she was attacked and knocked over by a male student at the school’s homecoming game Sept. 15 after she attempted to de-escalate a fight between him and his girlfriend.

“It’s all a blur to me because I hit my head so hard,” she said in an interview. “I just remember opening my eyes and seeing a bunch of people around me.”

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The student’s mother, Tana Almerico, said she found out about it from another mom instead of administrators who responded to the situation.

Almerico said she called 911 when she arrived at the stadium to find her daughter “visibly distressed” and repeating that she had hit her head on a guard rail.

In the days that followed, a Facebook page for East Central ISD parents erupted with questions regarding the district’s handling of the incident.

Keira Gilmore, the girl’s older sister, created a petition calling for the removal of the high school’s principal, Melissa Barnett Kocian, that drew more than 670 signatures in a few days. The petitition says Kocian has “focused her attention away from the safety and well-being of our students as is evident by the increase in drugs, fights, violence and suicide attempts” on campus.

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Kocian, who became principal last school year, declined a request for comment.

Amanda Burger, the mother who called Almerico, was among the parents who packed the ECISD boardroom Thursday night. She said the alleged assault showcased bullying and fighting that has alienated students like her own daughter, who stayed home for five months last year after being threatened and harassed by a peer.

“She goes to school in fear all the time,” Burger said. 

According to Texas Education Agency data, East Central ISD reported 104 incidents of fighting, defined as mutual combat, during the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent available. That year, most school districts in Bexar County reported more fights and other violent incidents than in the 2017-18 school year, resuming a generally rising trend that had been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

ECISD reported a higher rate of violent incidents — 292 per 10,000 students — than the average for the San Antonio area, 245 per 10,000, in the 2020-21 year, but six other school districts had rates that were higher still, an Express-News analysis of the TEA data showed. 

Parent Kelley Carraway said she believes the actual number of fights in the district is much higher because they break out in areas where there is no adult supervision. 

She said her son, a seventh grader at Heritage Middle School, is in constant fear of being attacked. 

“He made a comment to me last week about not using the restrooms at school,” Carraway said. “He said, ‘Mom, there is blood on the walls. People get jumped in there and everybody pulls their phones out and starts recording.’”

She cited private Instagram and TikTok accounts filled with videos of students fighting at East Central schools. An ECISD spokesperson said the district was aware of the accounts and had attempted to suppress them, but new ones keep popping up. The spokesperson said the district contacted Meta, the parent company of Instagram, to try to identify the owners of the accounts but was told that information could not be disclosed. 

“I think it’s enough for every parent,” Carraway said. “We’re all just done. We’re overwhelmed, and we’re tired.”

In a letter sent to parents, East Central ISD Superintendent Roland Toscano addressed a spate of unrelated incidents that occurred during the football game, including a student having “a serious medical event that required intervention” and a report of gunfire a mile away from campus. 

“Separately, there was a physical altercation that occurred in the student section, which is being handled administratively and by” the East Central ISD Police Department, the letter states. The district said it was unable to provide additional information including whether the male student has been charged or faces disciplinary measures. 

“We can ensure you that any incident involving violence is taken seriously,” the superintendent wrote.

Some parents who spoke at the meeting on Thursday voiced their support of the district, emphasizing that bad behaviors are learned at home and that parents need to take responsibility for their children’s actions.

“I’ll say to the parents, continue to trust in these guys up here and I think everything will work out OK,” said Jamie Coleman, the father of four East Central alumni. “Try not to go on social media because, believe it or not, the kids read that, and they buy in and feed off our negative energy.”

Keith Kyleman asked that the passionate parents he’s observed on social media to consider better ways of advocating for change.

“All of our campuses are in desperate need of parental involvement,” he added.

Data reporter Libby Seline contributed to this report.

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