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Smart students, foolish choices. Exposure of fight club at elite New York school creates firestorm

As a parent, a surprising lesson I learned early on was smart kids do stupid things. I had assumed bright students focused on their futures would not take foolish risks, but I discovered dumb decisions are part of teenager's DNA, regardless of GPA or ACT score.

And that is clearly demonstrated in a news story riveting New Yorkers. The New York Daily News did a front page article last month on student fight clubs at the prestigious 3,000-pupil Bronx High School of Science. Students at the Bronx Science, one of the top rated public high schools in the nation, were brawling in a nearby park and posting the videos online.

(This, by the way, goes on in metro Atlanta public and private schools. Kids meet somewhere, fight and post it. I have seen a few videos, and the battling seems more theater than tumult.)

The Daily News got a tip about 11 fight clips posted on the “Savage Season” social media site for 1,516 private members. One parent told the News, "It’s one of the best high schools in the country, and then you see the reality of what goes on in there. It’s insane. These kids are super-smart, but they have zero common sense.”

Students didn't like the resulting story or the trademark Daily News headline -- "Put Up Your Dorks" -- and went after the news reporter Ben Chapman.

On Monday, Chapman detailed the fallout, which led to the arrest of one student:

My number appeared on the fight club's 1,500-member private cyberbullying Facebook page. Still more, they posted photos of my family and my house, along with my address.

Moments later my phone began ringing with threats and name calling. Those who had posted my address online, encouraged their fellow bullies to go to my house and attack my family.

All told, I received hundreds of insulting and threatening text messages from more than 100 different phone numbers and dozens of Facebook users, most of them Bronx Science students and alums. Many were upset by a headline, not of my making, that called the school's brainy students dorks.

The NYPD posted a squad car with lights flashing overnight in front of my house on my quiet, close-knit street. My neighbors were very concerned. We all had trouble sleeping.

The arrested student admitted to posting a social media threat against Chapman and making obscene calls to his home, but the Daily News reporter is calling for the charges to be dropped. Chapman thinks the school administration, which allegedly was long aware of the fight club, ought to be punished, not students, writing today, "Instead, I say to Chancellor Carmen Farina: punish the adults of Bronx Science and central headquarters who let this mess fester."

In writing about teen fight clubs earlier, I raised a question that pertains to Bronx Science as well. Is the school responsible for what teens do once they leave the building in the afternoon? The fights occurred after school in a public park. Students recorded the fights on phones bought for them by their parents.

Are we asking too much of schools to police what kids do once the final bell rings? Increasingly, we expect schools to somehow patrol the online behavior of teenagers.  Is that reasonable?

What do you think?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.