Five Stamford middle school students were arrested for fighting. Administrators say they have fixes in place.

Cloonan Middle School, 11 West North St. in Stamford, on Feb. 12, 2020.

Cloonan Middle School, 11 West North St. in Stamford, on Feb. 12, 2020.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

STAMFORD — In response to a violent fight at a downtown middle school that resulted in one student suffering injuries to his head and knee, officials are asking parents to help them keep phones out of schools.

And they’re installing cameras to allow administrators to better monitor the school’s public spaces — in addition to hiring staff to better reach students in need.

According to police, a student at the middle school was attacked by five other students in a bathroom on April 26. During the altercation, the student was thrown to the ground, kicked and suffered a possible concussion, police said.

The five students, all juveniles, were arrested and charged with second-degree assault and breach of peace. The school was placed on lockdown, which remained in effect while police conducted their investigation, said David Tate, principal of Cloonan Middle School, during a an online town hall meeting this past week.

Joe Kennedy, a former police sergeant and the school district’s safety, compliance and employee relations manager, said during the discussion that most of the violent incidents in schools nowadays “are internet driven.”

He mentioned the TikTok Challenges that occurred earlier in the school year, including one involving students at Cloonan using their hands to imitate firing a gun directed at a camera.

“Kids are gravitating to the social media and it’s overwhelming from a teaching standpoint,” he said.

Tate said that about 10 to 15 percent of the total school population, which is about 630 students, have been involved in fighting incidents this year. That’s about 63 to 95 students.

He also told parents to be on top of how their children are using their phones.

“You should be monitoring that cell phone as closely as you can,” Tate said. “Because many of these things start in chats that are occurring over the weekend or at night after school and then get followed up when they’re in school.

“If we could get them all to leave their phones at home … it would help significantly,” he told parents.

The beginning of the school year, when students returned to buildings full-time for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, was marked with multiple fights at the city’s high schools.

According to police, about 20 students were arrested over the first six weeks or so of the school year.

Tate said the student attack at Cloonan was “not a random incident,” in an effort to alleviate concerns from the school community.

“You don’t need to worry about your child going to the bathroom and suddenly being jumped,” he said. “However, they could walk in to other students fighting, which in itself is traumatic enough and we don’t want happening.”

He also said the school has implemented some changes this school year in anticipation of the challenges of having students back inside school buildings after two years of having their education disrupted.

One change is a 24-camera system that will be up and running in the coming days, he said.

“We’re trying to monitor what students are doing as they’re moving about the building,” he said.

The district also funded positions called “restorative student support facilitators” at all middle schools this school year precisely to deal with students’ social and emotional well being, he said. Part of that work is establishing deeper relationships with students.

“If every student comes into the building and has at least one adult with whom they have a trusting relationship, that’s someone they can go to in a time of need or in a concern,” Tate said. “Then they are more likely to do so and avoid negative situations like resorting to fighting with another student.”

Maya Donald, the mother of a kindergarten student at Hart Elementary School — only a few yards away from Cloonan — said she saw multiple police cars when she took her child to school the day of the fight.

“Arresting a seventh grader is super traumatic,” she said.

Tate said that while students were arrested, a lot of work has taken place behind the scenes.

“What you do not see is the work we are doing with those students after the fact,” he said, later adding, “We do not simply have students arrested and then walk away and that’s the end of it.”