The fight began over a girl. Or online insults. Or because high school is a bubbling caldron of energies that can overflow at any provocation, without regard to rules. And those rules were clear: No violence.
Chris Valmonte learned this the day he was surrounded in the cafeteria at Kentridge High School, threw a punch to ward off his attackers and wound up suspended. Two years later, when his sister was jumped during dismissal, she remembered Chris’ punishment, refused to push back and ended up with a concussion, her budding athletic career dashed.
“What should I do if something like that happens to me?” the Valmontes’ younger brother, David, then an eighth-grader, asked his mother. “What are kids supposed to do if they’re attacked?”
Mary Valmonte did not know how to answer. She brought her son’s question to the Kent School Board. They couldn’t answer, either.
That realization was among the factors behind Kent School District’s difficult journey to confront discipline — not only how to handle students trying to protect themselves, but everyday issues: students who talk back to teachers, defy the rules, fight, disrupt class.
The Valmontes were hardly the only family to complain — Kent schools had been the subject of an NAACP lawsuit for handcuffing and pepper-spraying students not long before — but their case was the final straw.
And while Kent’s discipline policies are still a work in progress, in the three years since Valmonte spoke before the School Board the district has managed to cut suspensions by more than 30 percent.