Education

Madison H.S. students who walk out over cell phone ban will be suspended, Mike Miles says

Principal Edgar Contreras said the new policy was necessary “because cellphone video has been at the center of multiple recent fights on campus.” But a blurry video making rounds on social media this week shows what some say shows Contreras engaging in a physical altercation with a student.

Madison High School
Houston Independent School District

After students at Madison High School in Houston staged a walkout Thursday for the third day this week, Houston ISD superintendent Mike Miles said students who walk out of class will receive out-of-school suspension, and some students already have.

Hundreds of students flocked to the parking lot of a hair salon across the street on Thursday. Holding cardboard posters, the students protested a newly implemented cell phone policy that requires them to turn in their devices at the front office desk at the beginning of every school day.

“It’s not good for kids to be outside the school, it’s not safe,” Miles said.

Students lined West Orem Drive on Thursday morning, slowing traffic on the busy road that sat between them and their administration. Students raised signs above their heads reading “This is not a prison”, “Stop school to prison pipeline”, and “Y’all can’t keep us quiet” while chanting.

“We walked out of school because every day at James Madison High School is feeling more like jail,” Ty’Anna Morgan, a student at James Madison High School, said. “We walked out because every day it’s a new rule that changes the whole way the school moves.”

But on Thursday after an HISD Board of Managers meeting, Superintendent Mike Miles said the district was not aware of any demands.

The policy that went into effect on Monday was quickly met with backlash from students and parents who have collectively referred to the system as “prison-like.”

“We’re not going to respond to a lot of demands from students,” Miles said. “That doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be discussion … but we’re not in the business of having students demand certain things from the administration.”

Miles said HISD has always had a cell phone policy that says no cell phones are allowed during class or in the halls, with the exception of if the school’s executive director allows them in the lunchroom.

“Madison is a separate issue with regard to that, and that’s why those privileges have been taken away at lunchtime so there’s no cell phone usage,” Miles said. “We’re going to support the principal with that, we’re going to stand by this policy.”

Miles said having cell phones in schools can be problematic because of issues like bullying and using the phones to meet to sell drugs.

“We’ll keep it at lunch for the schools that can handle it, but we’re going to pull back,” Miles said.

Madison High School Principal Edgar Contreras said the new policy was necessary “because cellphone video has been at the center of multiple recent fights on campus.”

But a blurry video making rounds on social media this week shows what some say shows Contreras engaging in a physical altercation with a student. The video appears to show Contreras holding one student in a headlock before another student jumps on his back, swinging their fist at Contreras. It’s unclear when the video was taken.

Warning: the video below contains graphic content

 

A Houston Independent School District spokesperson didn’t immediately say if the new policy holds any relation to that grainy video, or if there’s an ongoing investigation into the incident.

“HISD Police and the South Division Superintendent reviewed the school’s camera footage and determined that nothing inappropriate occurred,” Jose Irizarry, district spokesperson told Houston Public Media. “Principal Contreras continues to lead Madison High School. The school day is proceeding in an orderly fashion, and the campus cell phone policy remains in effect.”

Miles doubled down on Thursday that nothing inappropriate had happened.

The initial announcement from Contreras last Friday fueled a campus lockdown and a series of disruptions by students who said they didn’t feel heard by the district’s administration.

"Student use of phones during the academic day disrupts learning and instruction, fuels disputes between students, and undermines the culture we are working to create in all HISD campuses," according to the school district.

As of Thursday, it wasn’t clear if the massive student protest disrupted regular class schedules.

“We walked out for change and until change is made, nothing will be right,” Morgan said.

This story was updated on Friday, 2/9/24 with comments from Superintendent Mike Miles.

Ariel Worthy and Dominic Anthony Walsh contributed to this report.