Bullying is, sadly, not an uncommon occurrence in middle schools across the country. However, the decision by a judge in Florida, in response to an extreme incident of bullying, is anything but ordinary. While some are applauding the judge’s decision to take tough action against a bullying student, others are wondering whether the judge went too far in his ruling. Was the judge fair in this case?
Bullying to the Extreme
The incident in question took place in Duval County, one of the largest school districts in Florida and in the U.S. A student at Oceanway Middle School, Aria Jewett, was lured away from school grounds by a group of classmates. One of the students, Paris Cannon, allegedly dragged Jewett by the hair and slammed her head into a stone wall. She also slapped and kicked Jewett while Jewett was curled up on the ground in a fetal position.
According to First Coast News, Jewett was taken to the hospital by ambulance after the attack, where she was treated for life-threatening injuries, including a skull fracture and a severe concussion. Jewett also suffered contusions and abrasions to the scalp from the attack. She spent the night in the hospital, before she was released to go home and recover.
Friends of Cannon were with the girls at the time of the attack, and one actually filmed the incident. The video showed the beating by Cannon, as well as two other girls in the background, laughing and cheering Cannon on as it took place. A nearby witness said Jewett collapsed after the attack, while the other three girls went back to the school.
Jewett’s mother, Melissa Thomas, went to court after the attack to keep Cannon out of Oceanway Middle School and away from her daughter. Thomas told First Coast News, “This bullying with children and kids is ridiculous. I don’t want another parent to go through any of this, what I just went through, this is awful. I could have been burying my child.”
The judge overseeing the case, Henry Davis, found Cannon guilty of felony battery. At that time, the attorney for Jewett asked that Cannon be removed from Oceanway Middle School. Judge Davis took his ruling a step further and banned Cannon from all Duval County Public Schools. On News 4, the judge stated, “Children ought to be able to go to school and feel safe. They should not have to worry about being beaten up, given physical injuries, permanent injuries at their schools. The schools belong to everybody and not just one person or group of people.”
The attorney for Cannon, Richard Brown, told News 4 the judge’s decision was “astonishing and unprecedented.” Brown also stated that the ruling went beyond what the initial petition asked for. Brown explained that Cannon lives with an older sister, who is working to support them. Her parents live in another state. The living situation rules out some education options, like homeschooling and private school, which leaves few choices in getting Cannon back into a school environment under this ruling.
Brown also noted that under the law, minors are supposed to be enrolled in school. By stripping Cannon and her guardian of most options, Judge Davis is making it nearly impossible for Cannon to follow the law. Brown stated that Canon has a right to an education, and so he will be appealing the judge’s ruling.
However, Thomas and her attorney, John Phillips, believe that the judge was fair in his ruling. In a separate report, Thomas told First Coast News, “I feel like getting a little justice.”
Phillips agreed that while the judge’s ruling was bold, it was fair. He told First Coast News, “For a student to be thrown out of an entire school system because she is such a detriment to that school system is huge.” Phillips also said that Cannon has become known for posting videos of her fights with other students online, indicating she is a serial bully.
Judge Davis stated that both children and parents need to know there will be consequences for their bullying behavior. He added there is no excuse for “what is taking place in our school.” Davis said he is troubled that students are dropping out of school because they don’t feel safe there, so he is taking a step in initiating severe consequences for students who choose to engage in this sort of behavior.
Some residents of the community also agree with Judge Davis’s ruling. Kimber Goldsmith and Tammy Arias, two employees of a salon near the middle school, told First Coast News they thought the judge made the right decision. Both of the women have children at the middle school.
“I agree with the judge,” Goldsmith stated. “If she is going to bully at this school, she is going to bully at another school. Evidently he had reasons not known to us to feel she should not go to school.”
Arias agreed, stating, “She has to learn a lesson, you can’t go around bullying kids and thinking that’s okay.”
However, Brown does not agree with the judge’s ruling and said he and his client will seek another hearing before Judge Davis. If that request is not granted, Brown will move forward with the appeal process. Still, extending the process is not necessarily in Cannon’s best interests Brown warned.
“While we are waiting, we have a young child, a 14-year-old child who basically doesn’t have anywhere to go to get an education,” Brown stated. “That is against the law.”