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Lynn officials add lesson to 29 teens’ suspensions

LYNN - A videotaped afterschool brawl in which two girls battle while onlookers egg them on has resulted in suspensions for 29 Lynn English High School students, possible criminal charges for the two combatants - and term papers for all involved.

The subject of the paper? The 1964 murder of Catherine “Kitty’’ Genovese, whose shouts for help went unanswered as she was stabbed to death in New York City. The thesis: the consequences of apathy.

“We felt not only should it be a discipline approach to this, but also a learning approach, so they don’t just walk away and say, ‘Oh, got a day off from school,’ ’’ said Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, who is also chairwoman of the city’s School Committee.

She said she and the school principal, Thomas Strangie, want students to “learn a little bit about what happens when we stand by and take no action when we should be taking action to help another human being.’’

Strangie handed out the punishments early yesterday morning, the first day back to school after a weeklong February break.

The two combatants, who were not seriously injured, were suspended for five days, and students who refereed or videotaped the violent struggle received three-day suspensions, Kennedy said.

Onlookers were given one-day suspensions.

More students face disciplinary action as the city continues to investigate the fight between two freshmen. Their classmates did nothing to stop it, even when one girl’s head was slammed into a stone wall.

In addition to the school discipline, the two girls could face criminal charges in Lynn Juvenile Court, according to Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office.

Kennedy said the city became aware of the fracas after a grainy, eight-minute video of the fight, complete with commentary and captions, was filmed and went viral on the Internet more than a week ago. The video, Kennedy said, received more than 300,000 hits on an urban website highlighting, among other things, fights between girls.

“We in Lynn do not want to be known for those reasons,’’ she said. The video has been taken down from the website but not YouTube.

Why were the teens fighting?

“One of the girls called another girl a derogatory term that starts with an H if you’re spelling it in the slang manner and with ‘wh’ if you’re spelling it in proper English,’’ Kennedy said.

While the mayor said she thinks the punishments doled out are more than fair, some of the suspended students say the whole situation has been blown out of proportion.

“It was stupid; all it was was like pulling hair,’’ sophomore Selena Depena said yesterday after school. “It was like fighting with your little brother or sister. I’ve seen worse fights.’’

Depena and several of her friends received one-day suspensions for watching what they considered a lackluster fight. “It wasn’t that serious at all,’’ said sophomore Tonaiy Brown.

The teenagers said they did not step in and try to break up the clash for fear of being pulled into the fray.

“I’m not going to jump in and I get hit and [then] I have to fight myself,’’ Brown said.

As school let out yesterday, students discussed suspensions and the fight as a whole with a mix of teenage cynicism and irritation. Some thought the negative attention stained the school’s reputation. Others responded with little more than shoulder-shrugging indifference.

Sophomore Thomas Rosirus, who watched the fight online, thought his classmates’ punishment was fair, but agreed that “the fight was stupid.’’

Still, he said, students are ridiculed if they are challenged to a fight but do not show up. “People will look down on you,’’ said Rosirus. “Things like, ‘That little dah, dah, dah didn’t fight.’ ’’

Despite the administration’s hope that the required research paper on Genovese will leave a lasting impression, Depena and her friends said the lesson they have learned is not to watch what they consider stupid fights.

The trouble, both at home and at school, was not worth it, they said.

“I’m in trouble,’’ Depena said. “My mom said whoever was there should definitely get in trouble.’’

Her friend Joely Figueroa, a freshman, is dreading what she knows will be her punishment for receiving a one-day suspension: being grounded for the foreseeable future and losing phone privileges.

“The fight,’’ she lamented, “wasn’t even in school. It was after school.’’

Students’ blasé attitude about the fight is what Kennedy said was most disturbing about the situation, “that kids could watch this and be so immune to it.’’

“No one was being affected, even when the girl’s head was being struck into a stone wall,’’ the mayor said.

Hopefully, she said, that will change and the school can return focus to educating children.

John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.
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