ST. CLOUD, Fla. — Like most 15-year-olds, Jayden Carpenter should be spending his days furthering his education, doing his best to raise his grades and hanging out after school with friends.
The past few weeks, however, he has been resigned to his living room couch. He isn’t allowed to board the bus, complete homework or show his classmates his latest attempts at filming skateboarding videos, a hobby for the budding videographer.
It’s all because two other students started throwing punches.
School and district administrators have been trying to expel Carpenter from St. Cloud High School for the past 19 days, after a fight broke out between three students and a school resource officer.
Carpenter wasn’t involved in the fight, at least directly. The school’s security cameras show him, along with dozens of other students, running over to watch. Some students tried to intervene and pull one of the teens off the officer. Others approached but held themselves back.
Carpenter pulled out his cell phone and captured 24 seconds of video before remembering he left his bag on the other side of the courtyard.
“I was like, ‘Oh, well, something’s going on,’” he recalled. “So, I head over to see what’s going on.”
He sent that video to two people who were on the other side of the campus at the time.
“I went on with my day, and next thing I knew, it was like eight o’clock at night,” he said. “I’m hearing how my video is blowing up. It’s on the news.”
A most serious crime
Security camera footage shows Carpenter wasn’t the only student who filmed that fight. However, his footage brought the unwanted attention to St. Cloud High School and the St. Cloud Police Department. It also didn’t help that his bright blond hair stood out on the overhead view.
Administrators likely didn’t have any trouble piecing together that he filmed the infamous 24 seconds, based on his movements and his cell phone’s angle. The next morning, he said a school official directed him toward the office before the first bell.
There, he said administrators and police officers were waiting to threaten him with arrest and expulsion from campus.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Carpenter was never led off in handcuffs, but the district eventually hit him with his punishment: Disruption on Campus – Major. Per the district’s own policy, which follows state guidelines, the charge is reserved for people who start major events that affect the entirety of the campus, such as calling in a bomb threat, pulling a fire alarm or inciting a riot.
“Only report incidents that disrupt all or a significant portion of campus,” the guidelines read, though the section is omitted from Osceola’s handbook in lieu of examples of events that fall under other charges.
However, the charge is considered more severe than fighting, bringing more mandatory punishments from Osceola County administrators, including a recommendation for expulsion and a referral to law enforcement. Neither expulsion, nor a long-term suspension, is mandatory for fighting.
“My son didn’t cause this altercation and there needs to be awareness and equality,” Jayden’s mother, Leeanna Carpenter said. “How are you going to pick one child out of 100 and deem that that child will no longer be able to continue their education at your school?”
Administrators had offered Carpenter a place at the district’s alternative school, which the family rejected. Requests for information, including how many students were punished in connection with the fight and what those punishments were, were not answered. The district also didn’t respond to a question about whether Disruption on Campus – Major was the normal consequence for watching and/or filming a fight.
Carpenter said a handful of students faced consequences, mostly teens who put a hand on someone else. The vast majority, he said, were back at school the next day.
Carpenter’s disciplinary record isn’t clean – his mother admitted he was involved in some horseplay in the school cafeteria as a freshman and needed to boost his GPA – but both mom and son denied he was a student the district would otherwise not be eager to sideline. Additionally, they said he has a documented case of ADD, which affects his impulse control.
“To me, it feels scary,” Carpenter said, when asked what it was like to be compared to a potential bomber or rioter. “They’re trying to say I’m the problem, and all I’ve done is tried to not be the problem.”
A rising trend
WFTV spoke to an independent education attorney who routinely handles disciplinary issues about Carpenter’s situation. She said it was becoming more common for school districts to retaliate against students who filmed an event on campus.
While the stated reason, the attorney explained, was to prevent students from copying one another, behind closed doors administrators don’t want bad publicity directed toward their schools. She also said administrators loathed losing control of a situation’s narrative.
That appears to be what happened at St. Cloud High School in early October. Word of the resource officer’s assault – and the visuals – leaked out before the district had time to interfere.
Despite that, the attorney clearly stated that Osceola County appeared to be violating its own code of conduct, because neither Carpenter nor his video caused a campus disruption.
An administrator for a different school district said watching or filming a fight would likely result in some sort of consequence for each student involved, but not expulsion.
Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, Osceola County only hit 21 students with Disruption of Campus – Major, according to a state database. One of those incidents involved an injury, while 20 were referred to law enforcement.
That same year, more than 1,600 students statewide faced the same charge. Most of the reasons were not specified.
Ultimately, Osceola County School Board members will have the final say over Carpenter’s fate unless district staff changes course. Carpenter, who has already missed his PSATs, a chance at earning a scholarship and multiple weeks of classes, does not yet have a hearing scheduled.
A question emailed to three of the five school board members about whether watching or filming a fight merited the punishment given out in this case was also not answered. The Carpenters said they hope that going public with their story will convince most of them to decide time served was enough of a punishment and return Jayden to his classes.
“I shouldn’t have gone to the fight in the first place. I should have just paid no mind to it,” the teen said. “Being picked out like that, it feels personal to me, because it is personal.”
The Osceola County School District spokesman provided Channel 9 with the following statement:
“There seems to be several facts that the parent/student must not have shared with you regarding why the level of discipline was given. They are aware of them. Unfortunately, because of student confidentiality, I am unable to provide you with those details so that you can get the full story.”
Leeanna Carpenter told Channel 9 that she does not know what the school district is referring to.
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