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Racial tensions at Las Vegas high school erupted in campus brawl

Sophomore Kayla Carbajal did not want to go to Western High School on Friday, a day after simmering racial tensions erupted in a brawl that led school police to pepper-spray her along with dozens of other staff and students.

But the 16-year-old’s mom made her go, so Carbajal headed off to her classes at the central Las Vegas Valley high school.

“My mom she was just like, ‘Be careful, make sure that you’re not there watching fights and then if you see something happen report it,’ ” she said.

No incidents were reported at the school on Friday amid a heightened security presence on campus.

But students who spoke with the Review-Journal said fights are common at Western — as are racial tensions between groups of black, Hispanic and white students.

‘A fight every month’

Carbajal said she sometimes does not feel safe at school, noting that there’s a fight about once a month.

Acting Clark County School District police Capt. Roberto Morales said Friday that the fight that initially triggered the police response on Thursday involved about a dozen individuals from groups of African-American and Hispanic students.

He said that in addition to ongoing racial tensions, gang affiliation may have played a role in the melee. But he would not characterize the incident as “gang-related” at such an early stage of the investigation.

Five students have been arrested so far, up from four announced on Thursday. The students, all male, were charged with battery on a police officer or protected person and for inciting a riot, Morales said.

Multiple students also received citations, Morales said, although he did not know how many.

Meanwhile, police presence was heavy outside the school on Friday as police continue to investigate.

“We have our plan in place right now to try to calm the situation down, find out who are the main individuals that got this whole thing going,” Morales said.

Carbajal said that in addition to the initial fight in the cafeteria, there were other separate altercations, including one on the quad.

She said she was among the students pepper-sprayed outside, as groups of kids were watching several fights.

When another fight broke out near the entrance to the school, she said, more students were pepper-sprayed, including those who were trying to get into the building to avoid the spray.

“Many kids were on the floor crying,” she said. “Their eyes watery, red.”

In the Clark County School District, Western has a reputation as a tough school.

A Review-Journal analysis of 2016-17 violence in traditional district high schools found that Western was in the top 10 in number of incidents involving violence to students, violence to staff, possessing or using drugs and possession of weapons.

State data for 2017-2018 shows that Western was in the top five in all four categories.

Teaching tolerance

Morales said parents bear some responsibility for the ongoing tensions and need to educate their children on acceptance.

“They need to reiterate (to) their young people that attend our schools — this is not their school, it’s everybody’s school, regardless of culture, color, religion belief,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. Schools are neutral — you do not participate in this kind of behavior.”

If parents don’t remind children at home, he said, then they’ll be reminded by the school administration.

“We support the administration in their mission of keeping it a safe, secure learning environment,” Morales said. “If their actions dictate otherwise, then we’ll have to take whatever action necessary to remind them that (this) is a school that is for learning and they need to act appropriately.”

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

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