DALLAS – The Dallas school system was rocked by allegations Thursday that staff members at an inner-city high school made students settle their differences by fighting bare-knuckle brawls inside a steel cage.
The principal and other employees at South Oak Cliff High School High knew about the cage fights and allowed the practice to continue, according to a 2008 report by school system investigators.
“More than anything, I’m in shock and disbelief – shocked that this could ever occur and shocked that it would be condoned by a professional administrator,” said Jerome Garza, a member of the Dallas school board.
The report, first obtained by The Dallas Morning News, describes two instances of fighting in an equipment cage in a boys’ locker room between 2003 and 2005. It was not clear from the report whether there were other fights.
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the newspaper that there were “some things that happened inside of a cage” and called the fights “unacceptable.”
No criminal charges were ever filed, and there was no mention in the report of whether anyone required medical attention or whether any employees were disciplined. A district spokesman would not comment.
The allegations came to light during a grade-fixing investigation that eventually cost the high school its 2005 and 2006 state basketball titles. School officials were suspected of altering students’ grades so that they could remain eligible to play for South Oak Cliff, a perennial basketball powerhouse in one of the poorer sections of the city.
In an interview with the Morning News, Donald Moten, who retired as principal last year, denied any fights were held.
“That’s barbaric. You can’t do that at a high school. You can’t do that anywhere,” Moten said. “Ain’t nothing to comment on. It never did happen. I never put a stop to anything because it never happened.”
In the report, a teacher was quoted as saying Moten told security personnel to put two fighting students “in the cage and let them duke it out.”
The report said a hall monitor, Gary King, told investigators he witnessed the head of campus security and an assistant basketball coach place two students in the cage to fight.
Another hall monitor, Reno Savala, told investigators he came upon two students fighting in the cage “bare-fisted with no head or eye protection.” Savala said the assistant coach was watching the fight and broke it up when Savala told him to.
“It was gladiator-style entertainment for the staff,” Frank Hammond, a fired counselor who has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the district, told the newspaper. “They were taking these boys downstairs to fight. And it was sanctioned by the principal and security.”
Hammond did not actually witness any of the fights, according to the report.
Garza, the school board member, said the board should look into whether criminal charges should be filed. He expressed frustration that the allegations were not brought to the board’s attention earlier.
Lew Blackburn, a school board trustee whose district includes South Oak Cliff, said he was “disappointed the trustees did not know about” the 2008 report. He also said no parent brought up allegations about fighting in cages and that he was unaware of them prior to the news reports.
Dallas police said they have no record of any investigation by the department.