ST. CLOUD, Fla. — Like most 15-year-olds, Jayden Carpenter should spend her days pursuing her education, doing her best to improve her grades, and hanging out after school with friends.
In recent weeks, however, he has resigned himself to his living room couch. He is not allowed to get on the bus, do his homework or show his classmates his latest attempts at shooting skate videos, the hobby of the budding videographer.
It’s because two other students started throwing punches.
School and district administrators have been trying to expel Carpenter from St. Cloud High School for 19 days, after a fight broke out between three students and a school resource officer.
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Carpenter was not involved in the fight, at least directly. School security cameras show him and dozens of other students running to watch. Some students attempted to intervene and snatch one of the teenagers from the officer. Others approached but held back.
Carpenter pulled out his cell phone and captured 24 seconds of video before he remembered leaving his bag across the yard.
“I was like, ‘Oh, well, something’s going on,'” he recalled. “So, I’ll see what happens.”
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He sent this video to two people who were on the other side of campus at the time.
“I went on with my day, and the next thing I knew it was like eight at night,” he said. “I hear how my video explodes. It’s on the news. »
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A most serious crime
Security camera footage shows Carpenter wasn’t the only student filming the fight. However, his footage brought unwanted attention to St. Cloud High School and the St. Cloud Police Department. It also didn’t help that her shiny blonde hair stood out in the overhead view.
Directors probably had no trouble piecing together that he filmed the infamous 24 seconds, based on his movements and the angle of his cellphone. The next morning, he said a school official directed him to the office before the first bell.
There, he said administrators and police were waiting to threaten him with arrest and expulsion from campus.
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“I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Carpenter was never taken out in handcuffs, but the district eventually hit him with their punishment: Disruption on Campus – Major. According to the district’s own policy, which follows state guidelines, charging is reserved for people who trigger major events that affect the entire campus, such as calling a bomb threat, triggering a fire alarm or incitement to a riot.
“Report only incidents that disrupt all or a significant portion of campus,” read the guidelines, though the section is omitted from Osceola’s handbook in lieu of examples of events that fall under other charges.
However, the charge is considered more severe than fighting, resulting in more mandatory penalties from Osceola County administrators, including a recommendation for eviction and referral to law enforcement. Neither expulsion nor a long-term suspension is mandatory to fight.
“My son did not cause this altercation and there needs to be awareness and equality,” Jayden’s mother Leeanna Carpenter said. “How are you going to choose one child out of 100 and estimate that this child will no longer be able to continue his studies in your school? »
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Trustees had offered Carpenter a place at the district’s alternative school, which the family rejected. Requests for information, including how many students were punished in connection with the brawl and what those punishments were, went unanswered. The district also did not respond to the question of whether Campus Disruption – Major was the normal consequence for watching and/or filming a fight.
Carpenter said a handful of students suffered consequences, mostly teenagers who got their hands on someone else. The vast majority, he said, were back in school the next day.
Carpenter’s disciplinary record isn’t clean – his mother admitted he was involved in rowdies in the school cafeteria as a freshman and needed to improve his GPA – but both mother and son denied that he was a student, the district would otherwise not be eager to shelve . Additionally, they said he had a documented case of ADD, which affects his impulse control.
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“To me, it’s scary,” Carpenter said, when asked what it was like to be compared to a potential suicide bomber or rioter. “They try to say I’m the problem, and all I’ve done is try not to be the problem.”
An upward trend
WFTV spoke to an independent education attorney who routinely handles disciplinary issues regarding Carpenter’s situation. She said it was becoming increasingly common for school districts to retaliate against students who filmed an event on campus.
While the stated reason, the attorney explained, was to prevent students from copying each other, closed-door administrators don’t want bad publicity directed at their schools. She also said that the directors hated losing control of the narrative of a situation.
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This appears to be what happened at St. Cloud High School in early October. News of the resource officer’s assault — and the footage — leaked before the district had time to intervene.
Despite this, the attorney made it clear that Osceola County appeared to be violating its own code of conduct, as neither Carpenter nor his video disrupted campus.
An administrator from another school district said watching or filming a fight would likely result in some sort of consequence for every student involved, but not expulsion.
Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, Osceola County only impacted 21 students with the campus disruption – Major, according to a state database. One of those incidents resulted in an injury, while 20 were referred to law enforcement.
That same year, more than 1,600 students statewide faced the same charge. Most of the reasons were not specified.
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Ultimately, members of the Osceola County School Board will have the final say on Carpenter’s fate unless district staff change course. Carpenter, who has already missed her PSATs, a chance to win a scholarship and several weeks of classes, does not yet have a scheduled hearing.
A question emailed to three of the five school board members about whether watching or filming a fight deserved the punishment given in the case also went unanswered. The Carpenters said they hope going public with their story will convince most of them to decide that the time spent was enough punishment and send Jayden back to his classes.
“I shouldn’t have gone to the fight in the first place. I should have ignored it,” the teenager said. “To be chosen like that feels personal to me, because it’s personal.”
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