Opinion: Use of pepper spray at Citrus Valley prompts reflection


We’ve all experienced it: the primal chaos of a school fight. Cady Heron of “Mean Girls” was right in comparing the high school lunch period to the wild savannas of the African plains. It’s always the same: a stampede rushes toward the action, a jeering crowd clamors to document it and administration jumps in to dispel the rising hysteria like exasperated zookeepers. 

National Geographic would have a field day. 

What occurred last Monday, however, was no joking matter. The use of pepper spray to quickly stop the escalating altercation resulted in calls and emails home and a press release from the Citrus Valley High School administration detailing the incident. 

Citrus Valley High School administration emailed parents with a timeline of events that unfolded during the lunch period on Monday, Aug. 26. (Ethic media) 

Within days The San Bernardino Sun, Riverside Today and Redlands Daily Facts all published similar articles reporting the eye-catching high school fight and pepper spray, each a blow to Citrus Valley’s reputation. Now more than ever is the best time for self-reflection as a school. 

First, the elephant in the room: the pepper spray. When the altercation turned physical and security efforts to break it up failed, the involved students and surrounding crowd were issued multiple warnings before the spray was ultimately used. Several students in and around the fight were affected and treated at the health office. 

“All the officers are trained in it; they all carry it at all the schools. It usually is by far the last means that they resort to,” says Citrus Valley principal, Rhoda Bruce, on security’s actions. “In the last four years this is probably the second incident that required the use of pepper spray.”

Bruce sympathizes with the affected students but points out the issue with the bystanders: “They came toward a fight to get it on their phone and watch. What they need to be doing is going away, letting people do their job and therefore they wouldn’t have been affected by it, only the two people it was targeted toward.” 

The Redlands Police Department and Redlands Fire Department were both dispatched to the school on Monday; no arrests were made and no citations were given. Paramedics assessed one affected student on scene, although he was not transported to the hospital.

The crowd mentality that compelled many students to join the fray prompted Bruce to address the incident the following Tuesday morning. Bruce explains her wish to express that she was “so thankful for all the kids that did the right thing” and she hopes that “the ones that choose not to will look to them as role models.” But, Bruce acknowledges, “in reality, in this day and age with cell phones and videos, that’s what they want—the sensation of putting it out there.”

Our generation has heard this warning—nothing posted on the internet truly goes away—so many times that it seems to just fade into background noise. We seem to share the conviction that “it couldn’t come back to affect me,” until it does, and at the most inopportune moment.

“I think that because of the age you are—and I was that age too—you don’t think 20 years down the line wherever it is you’re going to want a career and somebody has this video that you posted,” says Bruce. “It’s always out there, it’s never fully gone. People right now in their lives don’t know what they want to be—like a head of a corporation or a high-level security clearance FBI agent—and when somebody will go back and dig through their social media presence, they’ll see those things and it could cause problems down the line.”

Where Citrus Valley’s outward appearance to the community is permanently influenced by those local news articles, a student’s individual appearance is permanently influenced by their online presence. There is something to be said about the eternal wisdom of those cheesy “Think Before You Speak” posters that dominate elementary school hallways. 

To the underclassmen in particular, Bruce stresses “to pause and think twice, have a little time before you act.” She reiterates that “it’s a hard lesson to learn at this age but if I could give them the gift of learning this lesson, it would be to just pause, think about the repercussions of what they’re about to do and then hopefully reconsider.”

The repercussions of this incident however have already reached far beyond the campus limits; it has potentially altered the community’s perception of Citrus Valley High School, unconsciously or not. 

“This was an isolated incident and not a mirror of our student population by any means,” says Bruce in response to this possible change of opinion. “This is our tenth anniversary and for ten years we have held the tenets of CLASS at the forefront of everything we do. Our students in general are better prepared to be productive citizens because of the tenets of CLASS and we’re not going to let this one incident define who we are.”

As a school—student body and administration alike—we must play an active role in ensuring Citrus Valley maintains a positive learning environment that we can take pride in. Neither counterpart can turn a blind eye to a glaring issue or sweep it under the rug with only glancing acknowledgement. 

Moving forward from the fight, Bruce describes administration’s efforts to prevent similar conflicts: “We’re a PBIS school, Positive Behaviour Intervention Support, we actually just won a silver award. It’s a program where we are trying to focus on the positives and not so much on the consequences of the negative behavior. We’re trying to steer students to positive choices to begin with, instead of getting to the point of a verbal or physical altercation. We hope that they would find somebody on campus that they can speak to or work it out.”

Through the program, Citrus Valley has chosen one teacher, Elliot Anderson, to serve as the PBIS coordinator on campus. Anderson continually meets with students that may struggle with conflicts and attempts to mediate situations to prevent any dangerous escalation.

In all, Bruce describes Citrus Valley’s sentiment towards disruptions of the school’s learning environment best:  “That’s just not what we are. It’s not what we stand for. It’s not what we’re about. We don’t condone it; we don’t promote it. It’s unfortunate and very upsetting because there are so many students here that day in, day out make outstanding choices and do the right thing all the time. It’s hard to have such a great culture at our school and have it tarnished by just a few kids.”

Hopefully, in the future, Citrus Valley High School as a whole will strive to learn from its mistakes and continue to fulfill its hallmark tenets of CLASS.

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