One student’s story highlights Clark County schools’ struggle with violence

Updated February 20, 2018 - 11:44 am

This is the first installment in a series, Year in the Life, which will follow one CCSD senior through to graduation — highlighting districtwide issues along the way.

As police arrested D’Andre Burnett at school last year, it hurt to see his mother cry.

Burnett had fought with another student at a park off campus, the continuation of an earlier altercation in which he said his adversary hit him in the face. When he reported to the Arbor View High School office with his mother a short time later, he was arrested for assault and battery.

“I was just more shocked than anything,” he remembered, “because I didn’t know that I was going to go to jail that day.”

The arrest was the biggest bump on what has been a rocky educational journey for the 17-year-old senior. But it was an experience that led him to apply himself at school and try to graduate in the spring.

Burnett’s story is uniquely his, but it also reflects the challenges that thousands of at-risk students in the Clark County School District face as they navigate the perilous reefs of high school. Those challenges can stand in the way of graduation.

Increase in Violence

And Burnett’s past speaks directly to a major problem faced by the district: reining in school violence.

As the district has successfully worked to reduce its expulsion rate over the past four years, it has seen an increase in violence and other incidents requiring disciplinary actions.

That includes students assaulting students — including three stabbings during this school year — assaulting staff, possessing, using and distributing drugs and bringing weapons to school.

Burnett falls on the lower end of the spectrum. He hasn’t gotten into trouble running with gangs or selling drugs. His run-in with the law — the charge was later dropped — resulted from bad blood with a few other students that built over time.

Yet his story of a second chance highlights the balance the district must strike between expelling dangerous students and not abandoning those who are willing to change.

‘Never been to a school like that’

After the fight that got him arrested, Burnett was sent to South Continuation High School for students with behavioral problems.

Burnett said it was the worst school he ever attended.

There was gang violence, drug trafficking and fights, he said. The scene there is what persuaded Burnett to change his behavior.

“I’m a lot more focused on what I want to do now, because I don’t want to be back in that type of situation,” he said.

Burnett was not welcome back at Arbor View after serving his time at the continuation school under a policy called an “unreturn,” so he switched to the next-closest school, Shadow Ridge.

There, staff have faith that he can graduate despite his current deficit in credits.

“I think he has what it takes, yes,” said his counselor, Natascha Carroll. “He has to believe that, and I think in general he does believe he’ll graduate. But he’s got some bad habits he’s trying to get over.”

While no one begrudges Burnett his opportunity to rebound, some educators say the school district’s efforts to reform a discriminatory expulsion policy are contributing to the violence, which has been growing faster than the overall increase in student population.

On the east side

Eldorado High School Principal David Wilson has seen his share of fights in the eastern valley, which has gang issues. He says he’s even taken a few punches when other student interactions turned physical.

One reason for the increase in violence, Wilson argues, is the district’s push to reduce the number of expulsions.

“By changing what we can expel kids for and giving us (the) directive not to expel students, it has changed our campuses,” said Wilson, who also serves as the president-elect of the school administrators union.

While violence has increased districtwide, the number of expulsion recommendations has decreased nearly 69 percent — from 3,890 in 2013-2014 to 1,216 in 2016-2017. The number of students recommended for behavioral schools like South Continuation High — a “limited expulsion” that allows students to return to regular school campuses — decreased more than 72 percent, from 810 to 221, over the same period.

The problem isn’t confined to schools in tough neighborhoods.

Even at Shadow Ridge — in a suburban corner of the district in the far northwest of the valley — Principal Travis Warnick sees violence and gang activity creeping into his school.

“We have seen an uptick recently in the last year and a half in some of the more aggressive behaviors out of students,” he said. “The same problems they’re facing districtwide, they’re happening here. We’re not different than the rest.”

District officials say they’ve heard the concerns from principals and are seeking solutions. They’re also working to solicit community input, while Trustee Kevin Child has called for a public roundtable on the issue.

“Over the last … couple weeks, the question has been asked: What’s going on? Why are we seeing such a sharp increase in the violence incidents in our schools?” Capt. Ken Young, of the district police department, said at a press conference last month. “We’re asking the same question.”

Long-term disciplinary actions decrease

A change in culture

The district began changing its disciplinary culture around 2013, amid growing community concern over higher expulsion rates for minorities. In 2015, it also faced a complaint filed with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights on the same issue.

The superintendent created an advisory group to find solutions.

One of the changes was the Hope Squared program, which gave money to schools and allowed principals to choose disciplinary alternatives for their school. Some schools chose an in-house behavioral program, STAROn, which allowed disciplined students to attend behavioral courses of study but remain in their school.

The district also ended mandatory expulsion recommendations for certain offenses: Students are no longer booted for assault, arson or having sex on campus.

And in Clark County, expulsion doesn’t always mean a student can never return to his regular school. Limited expulsions — referral to behavioral schools — allow a student to come back after serving time in an alternative setting.

But these disciplinary methods can lead students to conclude there are no real consequences for their actions, Wilson argues. If they’re sent to an in-house program for a behavioral issue, he said, they still get to see their friends.

“At some point, kids have to recognize that there are consequences for their behaviors,” he said. “And in general, that’s not the case.”

The policy shifts haven’t fixed the underlying problem. African American and Hispanic students are still being punished at a higher rate than their white peers. A majority of the district’s students are minorities — with Hispanic students accounting for 44 to 46 percent of the overall student population in recent years and African-Americans making up 12 to 13 percent. Of the two ethnic groups, African-Americans are subject to the following disciplinary actions at rates that exceed their proportion of the student body.

The district counters that it’s the only one in Nevada that expels students for offenses beyond those required by state law.

State law requires suspension or expulsion for battery on a school employee with injury, distributing controlled substances, and possessing a weapon. The district has two other mandatory expellable offenses — battery to students with significant injury and secondary use or possession of drugs and alcohol.

Principals may still choose to recommend expulsion for other actions using their own discretion, although all recommendations are reviewed by the Education Services Division.

District officials also note that Clark County is the only district that doesn’t require schools to take students back who were expelled from their campuses, which enabled Arbor View to reject Burnett.

Understaffed police

Police charged with maintaining order in the district of more than 350 schools offer another explanation: The district’s police department is understaffed.

The force has 143 officers, said Matt Caldwell, president of the Police Officers Association. Proper staffing level would be about 200, he said.

“If we had more officers, we could focus on more preventative things and proactive work, rather than reactive work,” Caldwell said. “Right now we’re really much a reactive police department, due to manpower issues.”

The department announced last month that it would hire eight more officers, after the district has lifted a hiring freeze.

But beyond filling gaps, Caldwell argues the department needs a bigger budget. He estimates that the district spends about 17 cents per day per student each year on an officer.

“That’s not very much money spent on that, and that’s a really big concern for me,” he said.

The district said in a statement that it values school police officers and the presence they have on campus.

“Safety is our number one priority and is always considered as we constantly work to balance the need for school police officers on our campuses with the need to invest in education resources for our classrooms,” the statement said.

Violence in Schools

‘He better graduate’

Despite concerns over keeping problematic students in schools, D’Andre Burnett is one who has benefited from a second chance.

School is good for him so far, he said last month, wearing a blue tuxedo vest and clutching an elegant blue corsage that he planned to present to his girlfriend at Shadow Ridge’s homecoming dance.

“I’m just trying to keep my grades up, and trying to keep my A’s and B’s,” he said.

He’s halfway done with his credit-retrieval class, he said, and he recently took a break from his weekly pre-season basketball practices when he saw his English and geoscience grades slipping.

Along with school staff, his single mother, Brandi Burnett, is keeping a close eye on him.

“He better graduate,” she said. “If I have to drag him across that stage myself, he’s going to graduate.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

Editor’s note: A graphic on an earlier version of this story incorrectly compared the number of disciplinary incidents at West Prep Secondary to those at other Clark County high schools. The statistics were not comparable because they reflect incidents at West Prep’s high school and middle school levels.

(Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses Oct. 1 lawsuits
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren addresses criticism his company has received for filing a lawsuit against the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father recalls the night his 14-year-old son died jumping into moving traffic
From the Clark County Detention Center, Ezequiel Anorve Serrano talks about the night his 14-year-old son, Silas Anorve, died jumping into moving traffic on U.S. 95. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Palace Station unveils new sports book
Palace Station talks about the new sports book Thursday, August 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
One of world's longest racetracks planned in Pahrump by 2020
The racetrack will be 16 miles long by the year 2020 according to Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club owner John Morris. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Robotics takes off at Las Vegas Academy
Las Vegas Academy’s robotics team made it all the way to the world competition last year, the first year the team competed. Zackary Perry describes how they programmed their robot to compete. The team is an example of what Tesla wants to have in every school in the state. (Meghin Delaney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sedan and semitrailer collide in south Las Vegas
An early Wednesday morning crash has left one person in critical condition. A sedan and semitrailer collided around 4 a.m. at the corner of Spencer Street and Serene Avenue. Police do not believe impairment is a factor in the crash. Spencer has been blocked off north of Serene while police continue their investigation.
Cybersecurity Professionals Flock to Las Vegas for Black Hat
Black Hat USA, the largest annual cybersecurity conference, is expecting a record 17,000 attendees during its six-day run at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. One thing attendees have in mind is making sure they don't get hacked while they're there. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police chase ends with suspects captured in east Las Vegas
An early Tuesday morning chase ended with a car crash in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. Police were pursuing the vehicle, which they say was involved in robberies in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, when the driver crashed at Owens and Statz Street. A man was taken into custody. A woman was ejected from a vehicle and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The intersection at Mojave Road and Owens Avenue was shut down while police officers searched for the suspect and investigated. The intersection will remain closed for most of the morning.
Record number participate in Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony
Three hundred sixty-five medical students received their white coats during the Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony at the M Resort in Henderson Monday. The ceremony was developed to honor students in osteopathic medicine, physician assistant studies, nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy as they accept the professional responsibilities inherent in their relationship with patients. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stop for school buses, urges CCSD
Clark County School District Police Department hold a mock traffic stop at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Work Begins at Las Vegas Community Healing Garden
Crews moved the wooden Remembrance Wall at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden on South Casino Center Boulevard Monday. Construction on a permanent wall is set to begin within the week. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Man wounded outside Cottages apartment
Las Vegas police don't have a motive after a man was shot early Monday morning outside a northwest valley apartment. The man's mother called police to say her son had been shot. She called police around 1:15 a.m. Other people were inside the apartment but no one else was injured. Police are still looking for the shooter.
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Clark County recount votes in commission’s District E primary
Clark County staff begin the recount requested by candidate Marco Hernandez in the democratic primary for the County Commission's District E seat on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Long-running local hip hop producer wants Vegas rappers to shine
Las Vegas Hip Hop producer and co-owner of Digital Insight Recording Studios Tiger Stylz reflects on 30 years of music production in the city. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Construction for new 51s ballpark underway
New home of the Las Vegas 51s is planned to be finished by March 2019 in Summerlin according to team president Don Logan. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like