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Sonoma Valley High’s ‘fight video’ raises questions

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The “Facebook fight” video that appeared last weekend showing a girl fighting with a boy on the campus of Sonoma Valley High School has caused an uproar in the community where it occurred, raising questions not only about student fighting, but social media and “digital citizenship.”

By the time the Index-Tribune reported the story on Tuesday Feb. 16, the video – posted on Sunday Feb. 14 – had more than 10 million views, a number which has now reached 14 million. Other media outlets, particularly in the Bay Area, have also picked up on the story and done television segments about it.

The video was apparently first posted by Australian jiu-jitsu competitor and teacher Kit Dale, who told the Index-Tribune that the girl in the video and the boy who shot it had contacted him and sent him the clip.

“I posted it because I heard this girl was standing up for herself after being harassed and I really like that,” said Dale. “It’s empowering for other people…. Martial arts gives people confidence.” He added that while he encourages people “to develop tougher skin so that harassment doesn’t affect them, if it does affect them to stand up for themselves against the bullies.”

But it’s unclear that the boy in the video did in fact harass his attacker; and the fact that she was a student at what is technically another school – Creekside, an alternative campus located at the north end of Sonoma Valley High – who should not have been on the SVHS campus at all, puts her in a precarious position.

“On its face, the girl will likely face some charges,” said Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett. “She may be referred to Sonoma County Youth Diversion program if they determine she’s eligible for rehabilitation and she accepts the program, or she’ll be referred to juvenile courts.”

Sackett said the police are still investigating the Feb. 11 incident by speaking to the victim, the suspect and other students, and they have not yet completed their report. “We don’t go exclusively off what we see on social media,” said Sackett.

That said, among the evidence the police are evaluating are other cell phone videos taken by other students - at least one of which begins prior to the more notorious video.

The role of social media is a key concern for school and district administrators as well. “This was posted on Facebook, and it’s taken on a life of its own. People are commenting on Facebook without any knowledge of the incident,” said Kathleen Hawing, principal of Sonoma Valley High.

Hawing expressed particular concern that many of the comments on the video suggested the girl was right to attack the boy, essentially condoning violence as a solution to bullying. “We really want to focus on digital responsibility and the properties of social media, those are the things we’re really concerned about.”

Louann Carlomagno, Sonoma Valley School District superintendent, issued a statement Tuesday evening that also focused on social media.

“We hope that you, as parents, take this incident as an opportunity to remind your children about the acceptable use of social media, and the responsibility that goes with it.”

She made it a point to add, “This incident does not accurately represent Sonoma Valley High School or Creekside High School.” That point was echoed not only by Hawing and Sydney Smith, principal of Creekside, cwho cosigned the letter – but by Chief Sackett as well.

“I wouldn’t think that the high school is an unsafe place to be; I think they do a great job creating a safe environment for the students,” said Sackett. “But when you congregate people together, and youth, once in a while fights occur.”

Ironically, Carlomagno issued another statement the next day, focused on bullying, which at least on the face of it was the source of the Feb. 11 fight. She wrote in part, “the advent of ‘cyber-bullying’ has provided greater opportunities for harassment and potentially offers some level of anonymity to the harasser.”

The issues of bullying and fights on campus appeared magnified by an earlier fight at Creekside, on Jan. 14, that involved another girl who was cited for battery and sent to Sonoma Valley Youth and Family Services. According to both police and school officials, that was an unrelated incident, involving a separate set of students with no relevance to the Feb. 11 incident. On this, all parties are in agreement.

“We have no reason to believe they’re related,” said Sackett. Smith, principal of Creekside, vehemently concurred. “It was our students, and it had absolutely nothing to do with anyone at the high school.”

Still, it was no small coincidence that two incidents – both involving a female student kicking or kneeing a male student while he was on the ground – took place at the school in the same month.

The female suspect in the Feb. 11 fight is an apparent martial arts enthusiast, from various posts on her and other sites. The fact that she evidently reached out to a martial arts instructor half-way around the world to post the video is itself noteworthy.

“Martial arts gives people confidence,” said Dale. “And hopefully not to be abused, which is rarely the case with a trained martial artist. But if push comes to shove it’s always there.”

Email christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.