Fights, arrests plaque DeLand Middle School

A collection of police reports regarding fighting at DeLand Middle School during the past 39 days. 

One school, five weeks, at least eight fights, and at least 14 children, ages 11 to 14, arrested by the DeLand Police Department.

Those are the stats for DeLand Middle School in the month of October and one week of November, as shown by police reports.

From Oct. 1 to Nov. 8, the DeLand Police Department was called to the school at 1400 S. Aquarius Ave. a total of 87 times. Nearly one-third of those responses were outside of routine walk-and-talk visits and traffic details.

The police responded to assault-and-battery cases, Baker Acts, threats of suicide and fights — all during school hours, all at DeLand Middle.

Parents aren’t notified of these incidents by the administration, the parents said. Instead, they get frantic calls from their children.

“I literally can’t even go to work because I’m worried about my child,” said Amaria Dirch, mother of a sixth-grader at DeLand Middle.

Dirch, a corrections officer at Tomoka Correctional Institution, is fed up. Summoned to the school by her daughter Oct. 24, when she arrived at 11 a.m., she said, the office was full of other concerned parents, and she learned that, apparently, six fights had already taken place that day.

After looking at her daughter’s scratched and puffy face in the nurse’s office, Dirch stood in the front office, waiting to hear details about what had happened to her, she said. She heard the school phone ring six times, never to be answered.

According to the school secretary, Dirch said, all six calls were from the same parent.

Dirch could relate. Previously, when she got wind of something happening at the school, she would attempt to call.

“I left five voicemails because no one ever picked up the phone,” Dirch said.

Instead of the school administration, Dirch said, she relies on her daughter, other parents, and social media to know when something has happened.

“It doesn’t seem like they care,” Dirch said. “If I didn’t show my face out there every other week, they would throw her to the wolves.”

The administration at DeLand Middle School, including the new principal, John R. De Vito, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Likewise, the DeLand Police Department did not respond to The Beacon’s requests to interview the school resource officer assigned to DeLand Middle School or anyone else in the Police Department who could speak about the situation.

The Beacon was referred to Volusia County Schools’ Community Information Office, which also declined the newspaper’s request to interview anyone in the school system.

Community Information Officer Kelly Schulz sent this via email: “I can release this statement regarding your questions about fights at Deland Middle School: We take all matters of this nature very seriously and respond to them expeditiously within the guidelines of local policies and state statute. When necessary we also involve local law enforcement. We are not at liberty to publish or discuss information regarding individual students or reference on-going investigations.”

The school system’s newly hired superintendent, however, did talk to The Beacon. He said his experience shows the problem probably goes beyond DeLand Middle School.

“If the school is experiencing regular encounters, something is going on in the community. We can’t solve only at the school level, we have to reach out to the community,” Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz said.

Fritz is scheduled to start work Monday, Dec. 2.

“I can assure you that is something I will look into fairly quickly,” he said. “It’s a problem when kids use fists over voices.”

The prevalence of fighting and disciplinary action at DeLand Middle School is likely to be much higher than shown in police reports obtained by The Beacon, because not all incidents of violence result in police action and police reports.

Statistics for in-school and out-of-school suspensions are not available from the Florida Department of Education until the following school year. Also, records of civil citations, which may be issued by the school resource officer, are not available.