Graffiti Vandalism Takes Over Langley
November 10, 2016
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Two weeks into the start of the new school year, school officials and local police discovered several instances of graffiti throughout Langley High School. According to Principal Fred Amico, a Langley student tagged more than three men’s bathrooms and parts of the newly constructed Langley Hall before school and during Saxon Time.
The spray paint vandalism was first discovered on September 23, 2016 by custodians, prompting police to investigate further in an attempt to identify the culprit.
A month later, police continued to investigate this incident, but the case went cold. On October 20, 2016, school officials discovered more vandalism in the new men’s bathroom near Langley Hall.
“I’m hoping that [the graffiti] is over and done,” said Principal Amico. “It’s everyone’s concern.”
The school responded to the first incident by cancelling one Saxon Time, forcing all students to stay in their designated first period classroom unless someone confessed. “We have to restrict the student’s use of free time,” Principal Amico stated. “Since that was happening during Saxon Time and some in the morning, we have to close things down. That’s not what we want to do, but we also can’t have the school being vandalized.”
When asked if the school would cancel Saxon Time again in the future, Principal Amico responded, “I’m not going to rule anything out. My goal and my hope is that the students ensure this doesn’t happen again. It’s all our school, so we all need to take ownership and pride in it.”
After Principal Amico made the announcement about Saxon Time, the vandalism slowed. “If it starts back up again like we just saw, then we might have to [restrict Saxon Time] again,” said Mr. Mark Rogers, Safety and Security Specialist at Langley.
According to Mr. Rogers, the most recent vandalism read: “Blank Walls Make Blank People.” The administration believes that the new incident is unrelated to the previous one, which had spray painted letters as opposed to Sharpie writing. School staff has repeatedly stressed the importance of keeping Langley clean in order to promote a safe learning environment.
“If you don’t remove graffiti, it just sends a negative message, negative tone, and I think it could encourage more graffiti,” said Fairfax County Police Officer Mike Hunter. “It’s important to get it removed. I think any type of graffiti is discouraging and I’ve found it disappointing to find that kind of activity here at Langley because I’ve been generally impressed with the students. To have that issue of graffiti, it is disappointing and it is taken seriously.”
Currently, Officer Hunter and Principal Amico categorize the graffiti problem as an “active investigation.” Both the police and school are working together to find the vandal involved in both cases.
“We want to educate, not investigate,” said Assistant Principal Laura Moore. “But we will investigate if we need to.”
Search and Seizure Background:
(By Cameron Edgington and Alex Fishman, Staff Writers)
Along with the rise of vandalism comes an reinvigorated debate on the issue of search and seizure of students. Students have fourth amendment rights in schools, but these rights are diminished because of the faculty’s duty to maintain a safe school environment. However, search and seizure in schools has come under fire in recent years due to the vagueness of the laws that govern it, and the potential for abuse within the system. Under FCPS SR&R, teachers can’t search students, only administrators have that authority. However, they only need “reasonable suspicion” to search a student. This differs from probable cause in that there is more freedom and judgement awarded to the administrator, instead of the specific grounds probable cause requires.
In order to determine if Langley’s security division is in line with FCPS rules, the Saxon Scope discussed Langley’s search and seizure policy with Mr. Rogers. Along with referencing the SR&R a number of times, he brought up the fact that “school officials rarely conduct searches, but when they do, they mostly search students’ cars.”
Furthermore, Officer Hunter was able to validate that in the school environment “[he] has to abide by… reasonable suspicion”, but outside of school “[he] has to [establish] probable cause.”
Senior Dane Hoover, on the other hand, weighed in, saying, “Schools should give students more freedom and [students] should be left alone by administrators. [They] should have better things to do than reprimand students.”
Going along with this idea, searches also have a negative impact on the students. An anonymous student described being searched as “nerve wracking.” These searches, however, are necessary in order to maintain a safe school environment.
In the case of the graffiti, students were made aware of the impacts of the absence of a search. These impacts include the cancellation of Saxon Time and the various announcements and other restrictions. Although students lack the Constitutional rights in school that normal citizens are afforded, searches are a necessary component in order to maintain a safe and productive school environment.
*This article was originally featured in the November 2016 Issue of The Saxon Scope. Reporting by Nik Popli and Nikki Orsolini.