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Fights, attack break out Wednesday at Madison East High School, authorities say

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Police were called Wednesday to East High School for an attack on a student and two fights broke out among other students off campus, police and the Madison School District said.

Police said they were called to the school at 2222 E. Washington Ave. just before 2 p.m. after a 16-year-old who had been alone in a classroom during lunch was attacked by four others, including two 17-year-olds who aren’t East students but attend a different district program.

“The parties appeared to have had some past disagreements that led up to this incident,” police spokesperson Hunter Lisko said in a statement.

The victim was taken for medical treatment and is expected to make a full recovery, he said.

Separately, in an email to parents Wednesday, East Principal Mikki Smith said “three separate altercations, which originated outside of school, took place between a small number of students during the lunch hour, with two of these altercations occurring off campus.”

Staff called police to respond to one of the off-campus fights, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said, but the other was over more quickly. Smith said students returning from lunch off campus were required to show their school IDs to get back into the building. District staff have said lunchtime is often when fights break out.

“The Office of School Safety is working with (Madison police) to further investigate these events,” Smith said in the email, “and East staff will determine disciplinary consequences outlined in the behavior education plan for those students involved.”

LeMonds said staff were working with the families of the students involved and “it was determined there was no need for additional safety measures beyond what is provided on a daily basis” at the school.

Lisko said the investigation into the attack on the 16-year-old is ongoing and that at least two 17-year-olds are expected to face charges, but that the department was not releasing their names.

The incidents Wednesday follow a 2021-22 school year that saw multiple fights or other violence at East that required a police response, including one in November that drew more than 15 police officers and sent five students to the hospital after suffering exposure from police use of pepper spray.

Last school year was the first fully in-person school year since buildings were closed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first fully in-person year since the School Board voted to remove police officers, known as school resource officers, from the district’s four main high schools.

Police Chief Shon Barnes is asking for money in next year’s city budget to assign a police officer to the neighborhoods around each of the four main high schools as part of an effort to reinvigorate the city’s longtime neighborhood policing program that’s been cut in recent years as the department has struggled to meet the need for regular patrol services.

LeMonds has declined to say directly whether the district supports Barnes’ proposal.

In response to last year’s violence at East, the new volunteer group Moms on a Mission has been stationing people at the high school during the lunch hour to provide snacks, form relationships with students and de-escalate conflict.

Data on whether the schools and the areas around them have become more dangerous have been muddled or unavailable. Police said in August that from Sept. 1, 2021, to June 15, police had hundreds of calls to the high schools at all hours of the day — specifically, 220 to East, 158 to La Follette, 170 to Memorial and 92 to West.

Editor's note: This story was corrected on Sept. 23, 2022, to specify that the substance used at East High School in November was pepper spray, not tear gas.

Should schools reopen? Our readers sound off

Readers have strong opinions about last Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal editorial, "Fauci sends a message to schools," which encouraged local school districts to develop and share plans for reopening schools for second semester. Here are some of the letters to the editor the State Journal has received in response in recent days. 

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I found last Sunday's State Journal editorial, "Fauci sends a message to schools," disingenuous and dangerous.

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Schools should have opened in September.

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The State Journal editorial board are a bunch of ghouls.

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I take issue with last Sunday's State Journal editorial, "Fauci sends a message to schools," on children returning to schools.

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Schools need to remain virtual. It does not add up that in-person school is OK.

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Instead of making teachers the scapegoats of all the world's ills once again, maybe we should simply be honest: The federal government's egreg…

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I am appalled at the State Journal editorial board’s twisting of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s statements on ABC’s “This Week” and its call to open Madi…

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I am grandmother to a third-grade student who is in the Sun Prairie School District.

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We should wait until fall of 2021 to resume school.

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Teachers want to be back in school, but we know teachers are not protected like they need to be. "Good enough" is not acceptable. Teachers have died.

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I am in total agreement with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s message and the Wisconsin State Journal's editorial in last Sunday's newspaper, "Fauci sends …

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A year of education is being lost at a great cost to the generation losing it.

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I strongly believe parents should have the option to be homeschooled, no matter what the conditions for their kids. 

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I read with great disappointment last Sunday's State Journal editorial, "Fauci sends a message to schools," suggesting schools in Dane County …

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Last Sunday's State Journal editorial, "Fauci sends a message to schools," took Dr. Anthony Fauci's comments out of context.

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I read with consternation last Sunday's State Journal editorial, "Fauci sends a message to schools."

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I find it pretty remarkable that the editorial board was able to gloss over the facts and act as a puppet, echoing statements made by the Legi…

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Last Sunday's State Journal editorial, "Fauci sends a message to schools," took Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comments wildly out of context.

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