In a single day earlier this month, seven students were suspended following fights at two Buffalo high schools.
All the combatants were girls -- and that was not unusual.
In fact, 37 percent of the students suspended from Buffalo schools for violent behavior this year were female.
Girls also are responsible for some of the nastiest incidents in the rash of violence plaguing city schools. And there is a growing willingness among some girls to settle disputes with fists or knives, even when the incidents that prompt the fights seem trivial.
"We've got to get our arms around this," said the Rev. Kinzer Pointer, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. "At this point, some of these girls are out of control."
So far this school year, 577 girls -- or about six each school day -- have been suspended from city public schools for fighting, assault or physical contact.
Last school year, 654 girls were suspended from city schools for violent behavior.
School officials attribute those numbers to the growth of girl gangs, fights over boyfriends, a lax disciplinary system in the school district, the proliferation of violent messages in the media, and increased conflict in students' homes and neighborhoods.
"Sad to say, a lot of kids don't realize it's wrong to resolve something by fighting," said Jasmine Russell, a senior at Riverside High School. "It's all about power and about who's in charge. If they get disrespected, they feel they have to fight."
Violent behavior by girls in Buffalo reflects a national trend in which females account for a growing share of violence and incarceration, said Charles P. Ewing, a forensic psychologist and a State University of New York Distinguished Service Professor.
Society has become "masculinized," with girls and women taking on traits historically associated with men, he said.
"We're competitive, aggressive and, unfortunately, more violent," Ewing said. "It's sort of too bad we didn't make men more like women rather than women more like men."
School officials hope to counter the problem by re-establishing an alternative school for troubled students, increasing police presence in and around city schools, boosting student support services through the use of outside agencies and individuals, and by teaching students to settle disputes amicably.
"More than anything else, we have to look at how young ladies -- and young men -- resolve conflict," said Diane Collier, the school system's associate superintendent for student support services. "People settle disputes with knives and guns. I just think we're dealing with a culture and climate in this world that's very, very different."
Many city students are "like walking time bombs" because of backgrounds that often include deprivation, neglect, abuse, poor or non-existent family lives, and violent, depressed neighborhoods, said Kenneth N. Condrell, a child psychologist and family counselor.
"Life for many of these young people is living hell," he said. "Everything around them is hostile and negative. What you see on the surface is tremendous anger and rage."
Social norms and restraints have broken down for many girls, said Betty Jean Grant, the Board of Education's Ferry District member.
"They see something they want -- like gold earrings or a necklace -- and they simply take it or fight to get it," she said.
>Boys are a factor
Many fights between girls are over boyfriends or former boyfriends, and may be prompted simply by a boy talking to another girl, said Catherine Collins, an at-large Board of Education member. She believes some girls are using the district's choice program for high school enrollment simply to be near their boyfriends.
At Riverside, a fight broke out on a school bus a few years ago when one girl inadvertently stepped on another girl's sneaker. The girl immediately apologized, but the girl whose sneaker was stepped on demanded she wipe the sneaker off. She refused, and the girls started fighting, recalled Jasmine Russell.
"Things that set off girls are really petty," she said. "Just because they don't like each other -- that's basically how a lot of fights start."
While the school district needs greater parental support, some parents instead encourage girls to settle disputes through violence, said William Jackson, the school system's security chief.
In one recent incident, a parent drove a group of girls to school armed with baseball bats and sticks, Jackson said.
In another case, a parent supplied a daughter a knife so she could attack another girl.
The problem is exacerbated by the school system's revolving-door disciplinary system, in which students are suspended for five days for fighting, only to return to school without their underlying problems being addressed, said Jack Coyle, the Board of Education's Park District member.
"There has to be a culture where students and parents know that if children come to school and act like that, they're going to be dealt with," Coyle said. "I don't think we have that now."
>Looking at the good
Ewing, of UB, favors a "zero tolerance" policy in which students who engage in violence are expelled.
"I'm more concerned about the kids being victimized, rather than the victimizers," he said. "There's too great a tolerance for violent behavior."
Collier agrees that the problem of violence needs attention but said just 4 percent of city students are suspended in a given year. Media emphasis on violence clouds the good things taking place in city schools, she said.
"At some point, we have to stand up and talk about the 96 percent," she said. "They go to school, do what they're supposed to do and go home."
Jasmine Russell said the atmosphere at Riverside, which has experienced a considerable number of fights, is usually comfortable and secure. Security officers are never far away, she said, and teachers monitor the hallways between class.
"I feel safe," she said. "On a day-to-day basis, it's fine. It's nothing to be too scared about it."
There is a widespread feeling that many students are modeling violent behavior they see in films, video games or on television, and that a rather perverse sense of equality is developing between boys and girls.
"A lot of the kung fu movies and other things in the media have women in them as well as men," said Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
Coyle suggests the establishment of single-sex schools to defuse tensions over relationships between boys and girls. Collins said children should be taught to curb aggressive impulses in the early grades.
But while school officials scramble for answers, there is a broad consensus that the problem has its roots in the wider community.
"Schools are not the cause of the violence, but the recipients of it," UB's Ewing said. "I sympathize with the schools because they have to deal with it."
TUESDAY: Police responding to calls at city schools.