The Harrisburg School District said pepper-spray was used to break up a fight that students are estimating involved 30 students in the cafeteria of John Harris High School on Monday afternoon.
Seventeen-year-old junior Onlei Heuston said a war between Puerto Rican and Black students has been going on since she was in middle school, but Monday’s fight is the worst she has ever witnessed.
“It was just basically like the whole lunchroom fighting today,” Heuston said.
Onlei’s mother, Latasha Chase, said her daughter’s friend, not the school, called her about the brawl, and Onlei didn’t get out unscathed. Her foot was sprained. Her nose piercing was ripped out, and her scalp was torn.
“In the back of my head, three braids got ripped out, clean,” Onlei said.
Her mother was torn up, emotionally. She said she raced to John Harris only to get more questions from the school and its principal, Dr. Sieta Achampong.
“Asked them where’s my daughter? Why didn’t I get a phone call? Nobody answered my questions. Me and [Achampong] start to get into it because she said, “what do you want me to do? I just got here,” Chase said.
Onlei said fights happen at school every day for the same reason — racial tension, something she and her mother say the district ignores.
“They’re keeping some stuff to themselves. Everything is not getting put out there,” Onlei said.
“People are making 6 or 7 figures up here and not doing their job. You have salary jobs, but no results,” Chase said.
Onlei got discharged from the hospital and charged with disorderly conduct. She said she had to defend herself against a group of Puerto Rican girls who attacked her, and the fight originally started after one girl bumped another.
“I feel as though I shouldn’t have got a citation today. Like, y’all didn’t even ask what happened. Ya’ll didn’t talk to me,” Onlei said.
Chase wants the district to take more steps to protect students’ safety and believes that consolidating high schools into John Harris and Sci-Tech was a big mistake.
“Is it going to take for a child to get killed? Now, I’m a mother, and when I say I’m going to go to hell and back for mine, that’s what I’m doing,” Chase said.
Harrisburg School District responded to our questions with this statement:
“The Harrisburg School District has an open door policy for receiving and responding to the concerns of students, parents, and guardians. In response to your inquiry, the District strongly encourages parents and guardians to communicate their concerns, ideas and/or suggestions to their school Administrator. Parents and guardians may also contact the Office of the Superintendent at 717-703-4024, or attend monthly School Board Meetings (3rd Monday of the month) to share their concerns with the School Board of Directors.”