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School assaults: Do students have the right to defend themselves?

Posted at 11:11 PM, Dec 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-15 15:59:28-05
A frustrated parent stood before the TUSD board demanding the district do more to improve discipline at his daughter's school. 
This is Troy Curtis, the father of an 8th grader, who told the board he has video of girls assaulting his daughter -- captured on cell phones -- late September and mid October.

His daughter suspended both times and told was by school administrators after the first attack "because she didn't come to the office at the end of the fight, even though she had been in a fight with two girls and been hit in the head multiple times, that she still should have been coherent enough to come to the office."

Cavazos: How many times was she hit?
Curtis: 8 or 11 times in the back of the head by one of the girls.

We also spoke with the parents of this student, who say it wasn't an assault. Curtis's daughter instigated the fight so both girls are to blame. Curtis cites two Tucson Police investigations that labeled the incidents.

We showed this video to two law enforcement officers, who told me Curtis' daughter clearly backed away then was "ambushed" so she had the right to defend herself.

After each incident, Curtis says police officers explained to his daughter that Arizona is a stand your ground state, meaning "Once they step into your space and you see they are going to start a fight with you or throw a punch at you, You are allowed to defend yourself. Taking it beyond that is something your not allowed to do," Said Curtis.
That means a student cannot use unnecessary force or continue to fight when the bully is down. If that happens, TUSD tells us the student would then be charged with fighting.
We reached out to the district for an explanation on the policy for assaults. We're told "Whether a student's behavior constitutes a violation of criminal law is left to law enforcement to determine.  Whether a student's behavior violates a school rule is something that state law requires school officials to determine because schools are charged with having their own rules of behavior and teaching students beyond what is criminal or not."

But the parents of both students say problems persist because the discipline rules are confusing, inconsistent, and ineffective.  A letter was sent to TUSD principals late October, nearly three months after the start of the semester, reveals the purpose was "to clarify appropriate responses and consequences" to fights and assaults.
Students are continued to be taught to"address their issues through non-violent means. "To walk away from the fight. To not fight back at all. She's not allowed to defend herself. It didn't matter to them. When I asked what happens if she's put in a coma or something like that they said that's just part of what's going to happen. If that happens there's nothing really that they can do about that situation."
And the letter shows "interventions", or mediation between the students, are encouraged over suspensions, which parents of both students say was minimal and ineffective.
Convinced his daughter has the right to stand her ground, Curtis appeared before the school board  to say he believes the discipline rules do not align with state law.
Meantime, Curtis tells his daughter to continue to defend herself -- when assaulted. "It's something I tell her I would rather her come home and tell me that she defended herself and get suspended in the school than wind up in the hospital," said Curtis.