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Lunchtime fight disrupts Paso High — and ‘racial comments’ may be the cause again

The Paso Robles Unified School District says a “large campus disruption” at the high school was possibly sparked by racially motivated comments that led to a fight at lunchtime.

No injuries were reported.

“The investigation is ongoing and there are early indications that racial comments may have played a role in this student altercation,” reads a message from the district posted on Facebook.

“PRHS administration and staff quickly responded to assist in breaking up the fight and PRPD officers were deployed to the campus.”

The district said a very large crowd of students swarmed to watch, film and verbally engage in the fight “by yelling negative comments toward other students, staff and police officers.”

“Our staff and local authorities responded quickly, dispersed the crowds and secured the campus,” the message reads. “Currently, our administrative and counseling staff are conducting the investigation and providing support as needed.”

The district says that additional law enforcement and supervisory staff will be on site the remainder of the week to support the safety of all students.

Paso Robles police Sgt. Ricky Lehr said that there was no lock-down necessary and that when two students began fighting, an estimated crowd of about 300 students surrounded the area.

The two students did not appear to be injured when they were taken into the administration building, Lehr said.

“It looked a lot worse than it actually was,” Lehr said.

It’s the latest such incident for Paso Robles High School — one of the most diverse in the county with 54 percent of the student body identifying as non-white last school year.

After a National Walkout Day event last year to raise awareness about gun violence and remember the 17 students and staff members killed during a shooting in Parkland, Florida, a fight involving four students broke out. Some students said the fight had racial overtones and was related to the event and march.

Over the course of the ensuing weeks, police investigated potential threats at the school spread through Snapchat. During one investigation, students were required to shelter in place while officers searched the campus for firearms.

Another Snapchat threat resulted in the arrest of two students for firearm violations.

In its message Wednesday afternoon, the district noted the importance of working to proactively solve conflicts prior to physical altercations and encouraged students to take advantage of available counseling staff to help resolve student conflicts.

It also warned students against encouraging fights.

“All students should refrain from participating as active bystanders (videoing, running towards the altercation and verbally provoking). Active bystanders inhibit the effectiveness of our staff and PRPD from resolving incidents,” the message reads. “Filming for the purpose of sharing the video on social media outlets promotes violence and is unacceptable at our schools.”

The message said criminal charges could be applied as appropriate.

The district said that anyone with questions or concerns may contact Director of Student Services Joseph Williams at 805-769-1000, jmwilliams@pasoschools.org or PRHS Principal Anthony Overton at awoverton@pasoschools.org.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.
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