November 27, 2003



Police, YSHS ask village to address recent mischief by youth

Yellow Springs police and Yellow Springs High School Principal John Gudgel expressed concern this week about a recent string of incidents involving vandalism, theft and criminal damaging by Yellow Springs youth. Though both interim Police Chief John Grote and Gudgel question whether their reactions are proportionate to the severity of the crimes committed, they said that the rash of vandalism reflects an increase in derelict behavior among local youth. And they said the community needs to take the problem seriously.

This fall police have been kept unusually busy with the nefarious activities of YSHS and McKinney School students, Grote said. On Halloween a mob of youth at the Corry Street public parking lot and elsewhere in town pelted cars, police and small trick-or-treaters with eggs. Police needed assistance from Greene County and Cedarville law enforcement authorities to control the crowd, and two adult students and one minor were charged with disorderly conduct and underage consumption.

Earlier this month, three YSHS students shot BB’s at a downtown business, several homes and cars. They appeared to be aiming at other students and school employees, Grote said. Eight charges, including criminal damaging, aggravated menacing and obstructing justice, have been filed against the adult student involved, and charges against the two minors are pending in Greene County Juvenile Court.

The next weekend, a window was shot out at the high school, presumably by students. This year police have investigated 25 cases of the kind of criminal damaging youth tend to commit, and seven of those incidents have involved BB guns. “That is way too many,” Grote said.

This year items such as books, lunches, money and laptop computers have been stolen, again presumably by students, from lockers and a teacher at YSHS, Gudgel said. Students’ belligerence toward teachers and the offensive language they use toward each other and particularly toward female students has increased over the past several years, he said.

“A lot of the behaviors we’ve seen outside of school we’re starting to have to deal with at school on a regular basis,” Gudgel said. “It’s disruptive of the learning environment, and it’s becoming more and more frustrating spending more and more time with students on behavior issues.”

Grote was equally uncertain about how to improve the situation. “We’ve tried to keep the lines of communication open, but it hasn’t met with great success, and I’m concerned with what’s going on,” Grote said. “It’s perplexing. I feel the Police Department has failed somewhat.”

Four YSHS students interviewed this week for this story indicated that students were not necessarily being malicious but that they needed something exciting to do, which gave them something exciting to talk about at school. The students said that they were concerned about theft because it could affect them personally, but they also said the vast majority of students don’t lock their lockers because they don’t store valuables in them.

“It’s not the tough-guy thing, but it’s more their way of having fun,” freshman Maddy Welsh said of the incidents this year. “It just got way out of hand.”

“It’s kind of like child’s play, kids trying to have fun and stir up stuff,” senior Amy Erickson said. “Boredom is a big part of it, they just want something to do.”

But regular criminal damaging is too costly for the community to allow, Grote said.

Parent Valerie Blackwell-Truitt said that the recent behaviors are both indicative of a larger problem and representative of the influence of the violence and aggression in American media.

She said that a lack of parental involvement and insufficient community support for unstable youth are letting too many troubled kids fall through the cracks. A high school PTO might bridge the gap between the school and the families, she said. And talking to youth about creative ways to entertain themselves either at a gathering space or with organized activities could be productive, she said.

Past efforts to locate a space for high school students have not been successful because of lack of resources and time and energy to come up with a viable idea, Erickson said. For a hang-out space to even have a chance of attracting youth, it would have to be centrally located, at least partially indoor, and it would have to be only minimally supervised, preferably by a cool young mentor students could look up to, she said.

The other students interviewed doubted that teens would choose to go to an organized space even if it met all those requirements, because they would be conforming to an establishment. “It would be a waste of time to try to get kids to go because it would still be supervised,” junior Nick Rittenhouse said.

“I don’t think it would be worth it, and it would get trashed and vandalized,” freshman Carly Bailey said.

Joan Chappelle, a member of the Village Human Relations Commission, said that she has received calls from residents concerned about kids at the corner lot, but she said that she doesn’t want to address a problem where there is none.

“I don’t want to pick on our kids, and I definitely don’t want any kind of adult imposition on their space,” she said. “I just want to ask if there’s anything we should be doing. If we think there’s an issue, we certainly would get the kids’ input first.”

This month, YSHS and the McKinney School held a “Pulse” meeting, during which students discussed the recent mischief. Gudgel said that some students felt disassociated with the problems, some felt the school was overly critical, and others felt it was a serious issue.

Teachers and administrators are frustrated that the community often views the school as the first line of defense against students’ increasingly derelict behavior when parents, local residents and social organizations should be taking some responsibility for solving the problem as well, Gudgel said.

School officials have talked about holding a community forum about these issues in January, he said.

“The school is a convenient vehicle for blame, but these are all our kids, and we as a community are responsible for them,” Gudgel said.

—Lauren Heaton