Just before a fight started in her classroom, eighth-grade teacher Nancy Foss tried to stop it with humor: "You are not fighting in front of the fish."
Usually when Mrs. Foss says something silly like this, it lightens up her pupils.
Not this time.
The two girls, ages 13 and 15, went from arguing to throwing punches inside the classroom at Glenn Hills Middle School. One girl even picked up a pair of scissors and slashed her classmate's face, resulting in a bloody brawl that left one with cuts to her nose and the other with a patch of hair ripped from her head.
Disruptions like this have Richmond County school board members worried they will need a second task force on violence at middle schools, complete with sheriff's deputies and handcuffs. A task force for the high schools cost the district an extra $45,000 for the deputies and led to more than 100 student arrests.
At the board's December meeting, trustee Helen Minchew suggested the school district head off a new task force by taking proactive measures to handle the escalating violence.
Superintendent Charles Larke said he will take steps to crack down on problem pupils by meeting regularly with middle school principals and coming up with possible solutions.
"One of the things that we have talked about doing is having the middle schools hold schoolwide parent meetings to let parents understand what could happen if these children continue to misbehave," he said.
The message would be simple. "You may end up on Fourth and Walton Way (in jail), picking your child up if your child can't behave," Dr. Larke said.
The bigger problem, trustee Marion Barnes said, is pupils who wander around without teachers keeping track of them.
"The teachers are supposed to keep the children in the class," he said. "Kids cannot get out into the hall or in the bathroom or in the yard unless the teachers let them out!"
Meanwhile, Mrs. Minchew suggested that the school board ask the sheriff's office to address some of the neighborhood feuds that are spreading to the schools.
"I just want to head off anything that would cause the sheriff's office to have to come into the middle schools if we can help it," she said.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pupils in tribunals
The number of middle school pupils disruptive enough to require tribunal hearings in the 2003-04 school year:
East Augusta: 36
Glenn Hills: 63
Morgan Road: 38
Spirit Creek: 51