Two people suffered minor injuries and one person was jailed after a brawl inside a Seattle middle school on Wednesday. School officials cite the incident as an example of the potential dangers when kids use Facebook.

Share story



When Marico Lynn Barnett arrived at Whitman Middle School with her eighth-grade daughter Wednesday morning, she didn’t expect to spend the night in jail.

But outside the school’s main office, Barnett and five teenage girls faced off in an argument that quickly escalated into a melee — all because her daughter and a classmate had traded threatening messages on Facebook.

Two of the girls suffered minor injuries in the brawl, which ended when the Crown Hill school’s principal was knocked to the ground while trying to break it up. Barnett, the only adult involved, was arrested and booked into King County Jail on suspicion of assault. She has not been charged.

Barnett’s 13-year-old daughter, who has a different last name, told The Seattle Times the girl has been expelled. The school district wouldn’t comment on the nature of the punishment for the students involved.

“I’m just in shock as to all what’s going on,” said Barnett, after she was released from jail. “It’s crazy.”

District officials say the fight is an example of what can go wrong when kids misuse Facebook, a social-media site that has become ubiquitous among young Americans — including those below the minimum age of 13.

The fight comes two years after 28 students at McClure Middle School, on Queen Anne, were suspended for creating a Facebook page that targeted another student.

“Facebook can really amplify and create conflict,” said Marni Campbell, an administrator overseeing all schools in northwest Seattle. “It’s something that we really need to be aware of.”

The Whitman brawl started just before school began, at about 7:45 a.m., according to a Seattle Police Department report and an account from Barnett, a 37-year-old Kent resident.

Barnett said she accompanied her daughter because the girl had received several threatening Facebook messages the night before from the other eighth-grade girl.

The girl who allegedly sent the messages could not be reached for comment.

Some of the messages may have alluded to the daughter’s sexual orientation, according to the police report. But Barnett’s daughter said that’s not true.

Barnett said she also brought another daughter, a 10th-grader, on Wednesday.

Upon entering the school, the family encountered the girl who had allegedly sent the threatening messages, who was with her high-school sister and her sister’s friend.

The two eighth-graders met in the middle of a bustling hallway.

“They both exchanged words and escalated into shoving,” according to the police report.

It was her daughters and the three girls who were fighting — shoving, kicking and punching, Barnett said. But the police report said she also was involved.

“The fight finally ended when the principal was tripped up in the melee,” according to the police report.

The principal, Sue Kleitsch, was not hurt, but two girls were taken to the nurse’s office.

The fight has been the talk of the school since the incident, said Guerron Miller, a Whitman eighth-grader. “People can’t stop talking about it.”

In response to the incident, the district assigned extra security and locked down some of the doors, spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said.

Officials also are emphasizing the importance of preventing cyberbullying, or using the Internet to harass another person.

A November study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center found that 90 percent of teenagers have been bullied online.

In a letter to parents, Kleitsch urged families to be careful with Facebook.

“If your student has a Facebook page, please monitor the activity,” she wrote.

Seattle Public Schools policy allows for students to be punished for engaging in cyberbullying, even outside of school.

But district officials said they have little power to prevent it from happening.

“This is not something we can control,” said Campbell, the northwest-area school administrator. “This is part of parenting.”

News researcher Miyoko Wolf and staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this report. Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.