Administrators are investigating a Norfolk school security guard's use of pepper spray during a food fight.
The incident happened during lunch Tuesday at the cafeteria of Lafayette-Winona Middle School. Norfolk Public Schools spokesperson Elizabeth Mather said that the officer used pepper spray to break up the fight.
A concerned parent wrote 10 On Your Side saying the spray caused some of the kids with asthma to get sick. Mather said 37 students who complained of physical symptoms following the pepper spray were examined by the school nurse, and their parents were contacted.
Five parents contacted the school after the incident.
"It was just terrible in there," 12-year-old Derrell Hairston said.
"He stayed up all night coughing and gagging. I just feel like you can't treat these kids like animals ... they're going to act like animals," Hairston's mom, Tyheshia, added.
"I'd be upset absolutely I don't blame the parents for being upset I understand that," Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard Bentley said.
"...we're still investigating the facts, we don't have all the facts yet okay and it would be inappropriate for me to speak about that until we completed the investigation," Bentley continued.
According to school security officer policy, the security officer must give a warning and only use the pepper spray when lesser forms of force don't work.
"She just started spraying pepper spray. She didn't warn nobody or nothing," said Derrell Hairston.
On October 19, Principal Tracey Flemings sent a letter home to parents, which read:
" Yesterday during your child’s lunch period, one of our school security officers determined that it was necessary to use pepper spray to end a food fight. Children who were in the vicinity of the incident, or any who complained of physical symptoms, were examined by the school nurse. We contacted their parents.
Please be assured that Norfolk Public Schools has specific policy and procedures regarding the use of pepper spray by our school security officers, and all officers are thoroughly trained. I am working in partnership with the Norfolk Public Schools Department of Pupil Personnel Services to determine whether yesterday’s use of the pepper spray met our policy and procedures. If we find that the protocols were not followed, appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that it does not happen again."
The Norfolk Sheriff's Office trains Norfolk Public School Security Officers in the use of handcuffs and pepper spray. The handcuffs and pepper spray are considered property of Norfolk Public Schools.