Students charged in Cheltenham High School brawl plead guilty

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The fighting started after two female students backed a third against a trophy case in a second floor hallway at Cheltenham High School shortly after school started on May 3.

After a 16 year-old threw the first punch, another girl jumped into the fray and soon the four girls broke off into two separate fights, one of which continued even after numerous staff members tried to break up the combatants.

Six video clips of the brawl were shown in Montgomery County Juvenile Court before three of the girls, ages 15 and 16, pleaded guilty Friday to charges stemming from the fight that left seven staff people injured, one of whom suffered a concussion.

That teacher, Linda Jones, was in court wearing dark glasses, along with at least one other injured teacher who said she hurt her back while intervening in the fray.

Montgomery County Court Judge Bernard Moore ordered the girls held in juvenile detention until they are sentenced on June 1.

One 16 year-old faced the most serious charges, two separate counts of aggravated assault because of the injuries sustained by the teachers, seven counts of recklessly endangering another person, and simple assault. The other two, 15 and 16, were charged with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

The fourth girl, Amber Lewis, 18 and the sister of one of the juveniles, has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, harassment, and recklessly endangering another person. She was being held at the Montgomery County Prison after failing to post $10,000 bail.

Sharon Giamporcaro, deputy district attorney and chief of the Juvenile Division, depicted a portrait of bedlam with punches flying and teachers hurting their backs, arms and heads as they tried to restrain a 16 year-old who she said was looking for a fight. The melee continued as Jones lay unconscious on the floor and other staff members surrounded her protectively.

The girl broke away from staff several times to pursue her opponent, Giamporcaro said. After being taking to an office on another floor 18 minutes after the initial altercation, she charged out of that room when she saw the other teen in the nurse’s office across the hallway. It took an assistant principal and police officers with handcuffs to subdue her.

“School should be a safe educational institution, not a war zone,” Giamporcaro said. She said more staff members suffered minor injuries as well as emotional trauma.

The girl’s mother trembled and faced the ceiling with her eyes closed as the case against her daughter was made.

Lawyers for the three girls said none had ever been in trouble before in school or with the law and had no intention of getting into a fight. But one student testified that some of the fighters had tied their hair up in a scarf and put lotion or gel on their arms in preparation for the brawl between the two 16 year-olds.

The brawl has shaken the 1,500-student school where teachers have complained about increasing violence for several years. Superintendent Wagner Marseille has promised to make significant changes to improve school safety, including adding security to the school and offering more services to at risk students.

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