David Switzer doesn’t dispute that some of his Ardrey Kell High students shamed the south Charlotte school at last week’s football game, showing up drunk or high, spitting on their own band members and yelling racial threats at a black middle school student.
He cleared his school’s student section during the Sept. 15 game against Hough, convened all students for a dressing down when they returned to school and punished the ones who were identified as violators. And he sent a message to families of all 3,200 students detailing the behavior:
“We had a significant number of students who were intoxicated, high on drugs, cussing at other students, spitting and throwing items at our band, chanting inappropriate cuss words, shouting racial comments towards other students, vaping, and physically abusing their peers,” Switzer’s message said.
The out-of-control behavior was especially troubling, he said, because it took place while eighth-graders from Community House Middle School were at the game with Ardrey Kell’s band. Not only did students in the Ardrey Kell section spit and throw things at their own band, Switzer said, but a few students yelled “Black boy, you better watch your back! Black boy, you better keep your head on a swivel!” at a visiting African American middle school student.
“This is not what’s expected. It’s not going to happen,” Switzer said Friday.
But the principal said he was taken aback by social media messages suggesting the students got a break because the school is majority white and located in one of Mecklenburg’s most affluent areas. Several Facebook posts shared a WSOC-TV story about the incident and voiced criticism of Ardrey Kell’s handling of the situation.
Kevin Poirier, a teacher at the majority black, high-poverty West Charlotte High noted that an Ardrey Kell parent was quoted in the WSOC report as saying the students deserve consequences for “their silly actions,” while his students would have been called “thugs.”
“If my students at West Charlotte did this, guess what ... the news story wouldn’t look like this,” Poirier wrote. “This is what White Privilege looks like.”
“Notice the ‘discipline’ at play here. Send home, keep quiet, sweep under the rug,” Perry wrote. “This is what justice in the US and Charlotte looks like. If this were poor black and brown kids in (West Charlotte), Garinger, or wherever, do you think there might be legal involvement or at least suspension?”
Switzer said closing the student seating section at the game was just the first step in showing he takes the violations seriously. He said “a handful” of Ardrey Kell students who were identified as violating rules during the game were disciplined under the CMS Code of Conduct, though he wouldn’t reveal what penalty they faced.
No one was identified as making the racial threats, Switzer said, and it’s not even clear that they went to his school. While the section is supposed to be limited to Ardrey Kell students, students from at least two out-of-county schools were identified when the group was dispersed.
If he’d wanted to downplay or hide the incident, Switzer said, he’d have sent a vaguer message to families. He said he was specific about the violations because he wanted parents to confront their kids and understand what was going on.
Switzer said he has spoken with student leaders, the PTSO and numerous parents about the incident. Almost all have supported his crackdown, he said. And he said his school is continuing to communicate with Community House Middle and the student who was harassed to ensure that all students feel welcome when they move up to Ardrey Kell.
Students were warned about cleaning up their act at Friday’s game against arch-rival Providence High, Switzer said Friday afternoon, and security staff would be keeping a close eye on the student section.
Perry, who is a clinical therapist, said the Ardrey Kell incident illustrates what he often said during CMS student assignment talks: Parents often believe that high-wealth schools are great because they have high test scores. But those schools, where everyone is expected to get into top colleges and earn big money, can be pressure-cookers that encourage depression, anxiety and substance abuse, he said.
“You see this similar makeup of work hard, play hard mentality. The ‘play hard’ is often masking pain,” Perry said. “We have an issue with concentrated wealth that is creating a very unhealthy environment.”
Switzer said he doesn’t think Ardrey Kell has a bigger drinking or drug problem than most high schools. And he noted that Friday’s disruptions were caused by relatively few students.
“I’d hate for people to sensationalize this and say, ‘This is indicative of this school,’ ” he said.