A school should be a safe place where children have equal opportunities to gain knowledge in peace. This is why all school districts in North Carolina have been making deliberate strides to address the issue of bullying in schools.
Unfortunately, whether or not bullying is involved, sometimes student behavior goes too far and fights break out. Your idea of “school fights” may be minor scrapes where the worst thing that happens is that somebody’s nose gets bloodied, but the reality can be far more serious.
Such was the case in one elementary school in Walterboro, South Carolina where a 10-year girl died after being severely injured in a classroom brawl with another student. The mother of the deceased girl was later quoted saying that she felt that the school system had let her down for not protecting her child from the bully who killed her.
For better and worse, North Carolina schools and law enforcement officials are listening. Today, the consequences of school fights include not only physical and emotional injuries, but also the possibility of being charged with assault.
That’s exactly what happened in May 2018, when three students in Johnston County were caught on video fighting on school grounds.
Could this happen to your child? What can you do if it does?
Legal Consequences for School Fights In North Carolina
Small school fights (or fights in which the parents don’t want to seek further legal options) often proceed through the school principal’s judgment. However, the law does offer extra protection from violent attacks in school.
In North Carolina, the consequences of fighting in school are not only limited to school-based punishments like detention or suspension. It is possible for students caught up in a schoolyard brawl to be punished by criminal or civil lawsuits.
Usually, arrests will be made when simple reprimands are no longer an option. For example, when the perpetrators of the fight cause severe injuries and damage or incite riot-like behavior in school. The arrested individuals may then be charged with assault and tried in a juvenile or criminal court.
In regards to civil lawsuits, the parents of a child who was injured in a fight may seek civil damages in the form of compensation.
How Charges for School Fighting Work in North Carolina
Theoretically, any school fight where physical contact is made may result in a battery charge. Legally, battery includes any acts of offensive touching. Such as a slap — or even a shove. Practically speaking, however, it’s highly unlikely that a prosecutor will file charges against a student for such minor things as shoving. However, charges may be pressed if one or more children suffer significant injuries in a school fight.
Most school fights involve shoving, punching, kicking, or wrestling that only result in minor injuries. If such a fight leads to prosecution, the likely charge will be “simple” assault, assault & battery, or affray. Such charges are all class 2 misdemeanors (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-33).
What happens on those rare occasions when school fights truly get out of hand? Maybe the children were armed with weapons like hockey sticks, baseball bats, or knives. Or perhaps the fight involved sexual battery. Or the victims might belonged to a legally recognized special group (e.g. women, state employees, school employees, volunteers, sports officials, security officers, etc.). The fight may also result in very serious injuries that require significant medical attention.
If any of these aggravating factors exist, the perpetrators of the school fight may be charged with more “serious” forms of assault, which can be tried and punished as either a Class A1 or Class 1 misdemeanor depending on the specific circumstances.