After Food Fight Injured Three, Lee High Principal Championed Security Cameras
Principal Abe Jeffers wanted county to allow interior security cameras; sees them as deterrent.
Walking the halls of his school this week with a visitor, Lee High School Principal Abe Jeffers chatted easily with students and talked up the school's many achievements.
But like most high schools, things are not always so tranquil.
One day last spring, Jeffers and others at the school had heard some unwelcome news. "There was a rumor we heard that morning that there was going to be a food fight," he said in an interview in his office Thursday afternoon, hours before the Fairfax County School Board was set to vote on whether to allow interior surveillance cameras, which they ended up approving.
(The board approved the policy, 8-4, with Lee District member Brad Center and Springfield District member Elizabeth Bradsher voting for it and Mount Vernon's Dan Storck against. For the full story on last night's vote, go here.)
That day last spring, the school, in response to the rumors of a coming food fight, stationed six adults (administrators, school security personnel and two teachers) in the cafeteria for the "A" lunch period. Each of the school's three daily lunches averages about 500 students.
The lunchtime started out "pretty much normal, but it was a little tense, because people were looking around," said Jeffers, who has nine years experience in school administration, the past three as principal at Lee. "Food fights don't happen until the very last moment of lunch. You go through the whole lunch...and then you hang onto whatever you're going to throw. And then, just before the bell rings, usually there's a key word and then you start. So they popped up... It was a mess."
None of the six adults could identify any of the 70 to 100 students who threw food—milk, applesauce and more—that day, Jeffers said. It became a game of one person's word against another, without any proof. "Without any cameras there, no one got in trouble that day," he said. "If we'd had cameras in there, we could have found out who did it."
Aren't food fights harmless fun, a la "Animal House"? "The real danger is not the food, but the running," Jeffers said. With that many people making a mad dash for a few exits, it can get dangerous, he said. Three people were injured in the food fight. "A teacher, a young lady eight months pregnant and another student were injured but thankfully it was very minor. They got hurt from the running."
The pregnant student fell on her back. "Mercifully...there were no complications," Jeffers said. A teacher suffered a whiplash-type injury and had to see a doctor and miss school.
Jeffers said he would like to add 10 cameras to the school at a cost of about $36,000. Each camera would feature three to four lenses and be placed in high-traffic areas. The cameras would not record any audio.
The school would likely pay for them with funds that come from extra money the school receives from vending machines (about $800 a month), cell phone tower rental ($5,000 one-time fee when a carrier is added, annual $800 per carrier) and percentages of student parking permits, without using county taxpayer funds. "The county is supposed to help us out with wiring costs," Jeffers added.
"It's certainly not that much money in the scheme of things," he said. "I hope they go ahead and pass it."