Off-Campus Fight Sparks Retaliatory Assault, Then Near-Brawl at Collingswood Middle School

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Collingswood Police say an incident in Camden City led to an assault on a juvenile in Collingswood on Tuesday, and groups of adults showing up at the borough middle school on Wednesday.

By Matt Skoufalos | June 16, 20222

Collingswood High School and Middle School. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Police say that an unspecified altercation in Camden City boiled over to an assault on a Collingswood juvenile Tuesday evening, followed by the arrival of parents and students from out-of-town to Collingswood Middle School on Wednesday afternoon, reportedly seeking to settle scores.

Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey said that little is known about the precipitating incident, but that it reportedly involved residents from “a multitude of towns,” and occurred in Camden City at some point in the recent past.

As a result of that encounter, a Collingswood middle-schooler was assaulted on Lawnside Avenue on Tuesday, apparently in retaliation for the initial fight, Carey said.

Neighbors reported that the fight may have broken up when a Lawnside Avenue resident emerged from a home armed with a handgun, but the chief couldn’t confirm that detail.

Two juveniles were detained in the incident, but no criminal charges were filed.

Instead, the alleged offenders were given a station-house adjustment, a legal process that diverts minors from the criminal justice system by providing an alternative, immediate resolution in matters of juvenile delinquency.

The chief said the victim sustained minor injuries for which their caretaker declined medical attention.

That incident nonetheless apparently sparked the scene that followed on Wednesday afternoon at the Collingswood Middle and High School campus.

Collingswood High School Principal Matthew Genna referenced Tuesday’s events in an e-mail to parents Wednesday that said “several high school students engaged in or were witness to the assault of a middle school student off campus.”

When those same students came to school Wednesday, Genna said the school interviewed them about the assault, and directed them to go home prior to dismissal.

Middle- and high-school administrators, the school safety team, and Collingswood Police were on-hand outside the building when school let out at 12:30 p.m. that day, “as there was a degree of communication that suspected the parent of one of the students involved intended to come to Collingswood High School prior to dismissal,” Genna wrote.

That information proved correct, as the unidentified adult and others arrived at the high school campus Wednesday, allegedly spoiling for a fight. A verbal confrontation ensued, with reports of some shoving among students and shouting between the adults and school staff.

Collingswood and Oaklyn Superintendent of Schools Fredrick McDowell. Credit: Fredrick McDowell via LinkedIn.

According to Genna’s report, some Collingswood high-schoolers “were ushered into the building” by the district safety team, at which point “one of the young adults from out of town attempted to enter the school building after them.”

“Staff members, with the assistance of local law enforcement, closed the doors and removed the threat,” Genna wrote.

“Arguments continued outside between the school staff, police officers (of which several more responded) and the trespassing young adults.”

Eventually, Collingswood parents retrieved their students, and after that, borough police “ushered the offending parties off campus,” Genna wrote.

Collingswood Superintendent of Schools Fred McDowell said that district students who participated in the confrontation will face “harsh penalties,” and that trespassers from out of the district will face additional police action.

“There were individuals who did not belong on campus, from outside of the community, that evidently had an altercation with some students offsite, and felt that it was appropriate to come to the school to continue with their altercation,” McDowell said.

Carey said that the only person detained in Wednesday’s incident was a juvenile who was able to gain entrance to the building; that person was given a station-house adjustment as well.

Despite a verbal altercation among those parents on-scene and school staff, no charges were filed against any adult in the incident, although the chief said that Collingswood Police are working in cooperation with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO) because the incident involved unauthorized access to a school building.

(Neither the CCPO nor Camden Metro Police responded to requests for comment at press time.)

“Adults were present, and adults did bring their children there, but there was no fight,” Carey said. Many of those who arrived at the school gathered at Knight Park across the street, and “nothing bars someone from driving kids to a public park,” the chief said.

Carey said the matter is complicated because what began as a juvenile fight has escalated to an incident that’s intersected multiple legal jurisdictions.

“We’ve spoke to all the people involved; we’re hopeful that the station-house adjustment diversionary program [will work] in lieu of criminal charges,” he said. “At this point, the biggest reason we were there yesterday was because people were trespassing.”

File photo: Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

It’s not the first incident involving criminal trespass at the borough high school, nor the first major dispute between Collingswood students and Camden City residents this year.

In November 2021, the high school sheltered in place when a former student gained unauthorized entrance to the building under the guise of conducting a social experiment.

That same month, a Collingswood High School student was arrested in Virginia on first-degree murder charges in the death of a Camden City resident.

Carey said Wednesday’s circumstance “speaks to the need to have collaboration and communication between law enforcement and the school district.

“There are some areas of concern, and the school is aware of the same areas of concern, and we will be working together,” the chief said. “It’s just something that, if we had an enhanced relationship, and we had some involvement in the school, perhaps we could have had more information prior to [the incident].”

Collingswood Board of Education President Regan Kaiden said she views Wednesday’s confrontation as a byproduct of the social deficits that students are facing as a result of lapses in in-person learning during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The need to be re-introduced to socialization is real,” Kaiden said. “That’s something we’re all aware of, and certainly an ongoing problem, and one of the main reasons we’ve incorporated more mental health resources and social-emotional learning into the budget and the planning.

“If everybody’s going to fight each other for no reason, it’s a very clear correlation between the post-pandemic and what’s going on,” she said. “We want to address the root causes versus just kids continuing to get in trouble.

“There’s definitely been an uptick in all this kind of stuff,” Kaiden said. “Everybody’s feeling it, from teachers to administration, to us on the school board.”

This is a developing story. Stick with NJ Pen for updates.

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