St. Paul school officials say they're concerned about an uptick in violence at several city schools over the past few days, and that concern was highlighted by the discovery of a loaded handgun in a student's backpack at St. Paul's Harding High School Wednesday.
In addition, more than half a dozen fights have broken out at several schools in just the past three days.
Superintendent Valeria Silva and several high school principals addressed the incidents during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, MPR News reports.
The Harding student was arrested after a teacher smelled marijuana in the classroom and called the office to report it. The student's backpack was searched and authorities found marijuana and the handgun inside, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The principal of Harding High said there was no indication the student intended to use the weapon at school, KARE 11 reports.
More fights than usual
The administrators said they've been dealing with an unusual number of fights among students – six of them at Como Park High just in the past three days. Several teachers were injured when they tried to break up the fight, according to the Pioneer Press, but none was seriously hurt.
And at Central High, a police officer had to subdue an unruly student with a Taser when he refused to leave the building, according to MPR News.
Two larger fights involving dozens of students were also reported at Como and Humboldt High Schools late last month, according to KSTP.
The administrators said Wednesday they believe the unruly behavior stems from the hardships many students face at home, including poverty and unstable families.
Ironically, students feel safer in school and feel they can express their frustrations in that environment, said Central High School Principal Mary Mackbee.
"They succumb to simple kinds of responses to issues, and for a lot of them that's violence," she said, according to MPR News.
The district doesn't have current numbers for this school year yet on violent incidents, but officials said over the past five years, they have stayed about the same.
Silva said she doesn't plan to make any changes to existing discipline policies for students, but said administrators would provide more support and resources to school staff, the Pioneer Press reports.
The newspaper spoke to several critics, including the head of the St. Paul police union, who believe the situation has gotten worse and that school discipline policies are ineffective.
The Pioneer Press notes the district does not discipline students for "willful disobedience," but does address more serious misbehavior.