Counselor Questions School Violence Issue

Security is on high alert following a fight on Monday between Nacogdoches students and displaced New Orleans students. Now a counselor is encouraging more of a proactive stand on school violence. Samaritan Center counselor Jeannie Upchurch wasn't too surprised when she heard additional security was called in Friday at Nacogdoches High School. Threatening rumors are spreading all over. "There's a threat of the unknown and until we really get to know each other then all we can go by is rumor," said Upchurch.

The counselor is disappointed that invalid rumors of bombs, guns and fights are blamed on the displaced students. Since their arrival she's been counseling many of them through a special grant given to the Samaritan Center following Hurricane Katrina. She wants the same proactive intervention for school staff, students and the community, but so far her suggestion hasn't been taken. Upchurch shared, "I have been trying to suggest this since October and I'm still saying we do not understand each other and we need to understand each others responses."

Upchurch said within an hour of Monday's fight many of her student clients were calling her begging her to come to the campus, but she wasn't permitted to come onto the campus. Upchurch had been counseling students at the high school, but eventually was told to take her sessions off campus to her office. She has been successful in meeting with students at the alternative school.

Upchurch calls for school and town gatherings for a better understanding of the grief that follows personal and cultural losses. "We cannot just say it's time to get over it," which Upchurch knows is what many residents are thinking.

Several Nacogdoches and displaced students are in alternative school following a serious fight. Fights have been a problem for years at NHS, but now there's someone new to fight and blame. Upchurch said it's a symptom of the condition. "If you feel a threat in any way you're going to fight back or you're going to run. And it's not in the nature of a lot of young people to run."

Upchurch doesn't argue with stepped up security and rule enforcement. She supports the advice from NISD Chief Doug Ploch about rumors. He said, "Call us and let us answer those questions rather than calling everybody else too because what that leads to is a panic situation."

But Upchurch questions why school staff wasn't more proactive in following up with tips of a weekend fight that was predicted to be carried over at school. Ploch says they received one tip, but it was vague. "We did have security on hand in anticipation of trouble. We were able to get the situation under control, but if there had been a weapon in the mix, there would have been trouble," said Ploch while on duty Friday.

Upchurch believes all these concerns may be prevented if communication between two totally different cultures can occur. Separate meetings were held this week with parents of Nacogdoches and displaced New Orleans students. Upchurch said that's a start, but still views it is as 'reaction' instead of a 'proactive' move. She would have preferred the gatherings to have occurred community wide and before violence broke out.