Things Fall Apart: Menchville High School Edition

Justice Dunham

by James A. Bacon

Last week 17-year-old Justice Dunham was shot to death during an altercation in the parking lot outside Menchville High School in Newport News. The incident took place after a basketball game. In the version of the story given by 18-year-old Demari Batten, who was charged with the shooting, he saw a group of four or five people with whom he had been feuding. As he tried to get into his car, the group crowded around him, and he fired a gun to get them to back off. He later told police he didn’t know at the time whom he had shot.

That’s at least the second school shooting to occur in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area this school year. These are not the kinds of school shootings we’re accustomed to hearing about — alienated loners lashing out randomly in blind vengeance, who end up committing suicide or suicide-by-cop. There is nothing to indicate that Batten was psychologically disturbed. What we’re seeing here is a sociological phenomenon: a breakdown in social order.

It’s one thing to have shootings break out in the Pure Diamonds Gentlemen’s Club in Portsmouth at 1:30 a.m. — four shot, three hospitalized, as reported this morning — after adults have been partying with alcohol and drugs. But schools are supposed to be a protected environment. Kids are supposed to be safe. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that in some schools, the kids are not safe. Indeed, social order seems to be collapsing.

Virginia’s educational establishment is in denial. The State Board of Education made no mention of the rising tide of school violence in its 2021 Conditions and Needs of Public Schools. To do so would be to admit the massive failure of Virginia’s schools’ efforts to end the so-called schools-to-prison pipeline by substituting therapeutic “social-emotional learning” in place of traditional disciplinary measures.

William Golding’s famous novel, The Lord of the Flies, tells the story of English school boys who are cast away on a desert island and, in the absence of adult supervision, become primitive savages. That’s what I fear is happening in our schools. In the absence of effective adult supervision, kids are reverting to the rule of the street. In the past, kids who came from from single-parent households may not have been subjected to much discipline at home, but they faced consequences for misbehavior in schools. Today, kids are sitting in healing circles and being told to acknowledge how their misbehavior hurts the feelings of others. The therapy may work for some, but others regard it as a joke; the adults in schools come to be seen as ineffectual buffoons.

I know of at least one Virginia high school serving a lower-income population where fights — often multiple fights — break out almost every day. Two or more teachers have been assaulted since the beginning of the school year. Virtually every teacher at that school wants out. Students are routinely socially promoted, often into honors classes where they can’t keep up, but teachers are brow-beaten into passing them and, for purposes of calculating grade point averages, their participation in honors classes gives the school a boost. In a variant of the old Soviet adage, “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work,” the attitude at this school might be described: “They pretend to learn, and we pretend to teach them.” Except some students don’t even pretend to learn.

I have no personal knowledge of what’s occurring at Menchville High School. The school’s “Quality Profile” indicates that 40% of the students are economically disadvantaged, which is high but not as high as in many schools. The student body is about 40% White, 34% Black, and 15% Hispanic. This is not an “inner-city” school. Fourteen percent of the students last year were classified as chronically absent. Absenteeism was worst for Blacks and Hispanics but widespread among Whites (9.6%) and even Asians (8.7%).

The Quality Profile data is worthless for gauging the state of order/disorder in the school. Most parents would like to know how often fights occur, how often students get injured, how often teachers are assaulted, and other data along those lines. The Virginia Department of Education does not provide that information. Instead, it provides percentage breakdowns of short-term and long-term suspensions by race/ethnicity. Thus we can see that 58% of suspensions in the 2018-19 school year were Black kids. That dropped to 55% in the next school year, and only 33% in the 2020-21 school year — showing great progress in terms of achieving “equity,” defined as equal group outcomes! We don’t know how many kids were suspended, much less how many actual incidents occurred. The only thing citizens can quantify, thanks to media reports, is the number of murders.

School officials in Richmond appear to be flying blind. Their published data provides no clue as to what impact social-emotional learning policies are having in the real world. Two explanations present themselves: they do not care about real-world results… or they want to suppress them.

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46 responses to “Things Fall Apart: Menchville High School Edition”

  1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    The VDOE does collect the data, but the last report is 16-17. Not sure what happened to the 17-18 and 18-19 years. Should have been there.

    In Richmond, and other places, the reporting of this data is driven by real estate folks. Hiding is the answer.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I have to say – by this time – if we don’t know what is going on in schools across the country with respect to this kind of thing, we’d have to be ostriches.

    And at the same time, we’re hammering teachers and school administrations trying to deal with for their other “sins”.

    Too many of us have a “tear it down’ mindset about problems we have.

    We can’t. We must deal with them and demonizing the people in the institutions trying to deal with it is worse than counter-productive.

    There is a shortage of teachers and it’s getting worse.

    Who wants to be a teacher nowadays in the current political environment on top of trying to deal with the bullying and violence ongoing in the schools?

    1. tmtfairfax Avatar

      Larry, it’s the GD administrators, their staff and school boards. Most teachers, irrespective of their political beliefs, are trying to do a good job and teach kids.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        teachers have to deal directly with the students AND their parents. Teachers are being verbally attacked and physically assaulted by both students and their parents.

        Take today – right now – the Tik Toc issue.

        ” Educators and law enforcement officials say they haven’t seen credible threats of increased violence at schools, but some have increased security following reports of warnings in TikTok videos.

        The apparent social media threats had many educators on edge since they were circulating in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Michigan, which has been followed by numerous copycat threats to schools elsewhere.”

        Are you blaming administrators and school boards for these problems?

          1. but no student is disciplined and thrown out of school [and possibly into jail]….see the Marjory Stoneman Douglas settlements of $150M because our much vaunted FBI and the local school district failed to provide a safe environment. That is what is happening everywhere. PUNISH THE FEW, SAVE THE MANY….a simple equation.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            easy for LE to say, harder for the school folks to do nothing because it’s not “credible’. It perfectly describes their dilemma.

        1. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          The schools cannot fix what is being broken outside the schools. None of those guns were obtained from the school. Nobody at school teaches, if you get hassled pull out a pistol and shoot some sumbitch….Hell, in that Michigan case, the murder weapon was a parental gift! Any parents charged in this case?

        2. tmtfairfax Avatar

          They are the jerks that have inflamed everyone. They and the media idiots who repeat crap from both sides without analysis.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Jerks? School administrators trying to deal with kids who will attack and shoot other kids – BEFORE they do the act and based on social media threats?

            You’re blaming administrators across the country for this? And the media?

            geeze TMT…

    2. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      Could this be a major source of the problem: teachers and administrators are afraid to discipline students, because they fear lawsuits from parents and students AND no support from the school boards?

      To follow up on that…I can’t imagine that school boards WANT disorder in the schools. But, could it be that they can’t afford to fight off lawsuits, so they buckle, and refuse to enforce discipline?

      That line of thinking, as I’ve laid it out above, would explain why teachers, administrators and school board members don’t enforce discipline in the schools.

  3. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    So no one fears punishment. Children are not disciplined at an early age to fear their elders.As the AG in Wisc said if someone had intervened in in the racist killer Brooks life he might not have killed any one.What Horse dooey. Animals raise their young to fear their a parents in general but humans don’t we used to but we tossed 2000 years of hard knocks learning out the window at the insistence of crazy people. Spare the rod and spoil the child. And I get tired of hearing crying about social status and money being the issue. I grew up poor and so did Ben Carson neither of us went around killing people. A study was done years ago that showed criminals had the highest self esteem of anybody. Explains the democrat mentality that they think they are gods and yet everything they handle turns to crap.

  4. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “…he saw a group of four or five people whom he had been feuding with and tried to get into his car. As the others crowded around him, he fired the gun to get them to back off.”

    Sound like a repeat of the rightwing hero Kyle Rittenhouse defense. I wonder if TPUSA will give Batten a speaking slot too…

    1. I’m pretty sure those in the MHS crowd were not sexual predators of children, felons illegally possessing a firearm, nor conficted felons burning and looting the parking lot…but maybe I’m wrong.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Yes, you could be. I think that Batten had about as much information on the records of his victims as Rittenhouse did before carrying out his executions… that is to say… none….

        1. Matt Adams Avatar

          “Eric the half a troll kls • 3 hours ago • edited
          Yes, you could be. I think that Batten had about as much information on the records of his victims as Rittenhouse did before carrying out his executions… that is to say… none….”

          Words have meanings and thank the lord you never passed the bar, but given your statements I doubt you would’ve scored high enough on the LSATS to even enter law school.


          “the carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person.”

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            Pretty good description of what happened but also this more apt definition, counselor: “the killing of someone as a political act.”

          2. Matt Adams Avatar

            “Eric the half a troll a minute ago
            Also this more apt definition, counselor: “the killing of someone as a political act.”

            So self-defense was a political act? What is this political act you’re implying? I would tell you to try another job other than mind reading, but I’d presume you’d be just as bad at that given the overall inaccuracy of generally every statement you make.

        2. they weren’t executions…. follow the facts – though i know it’s hard for liberals to do so….

    2. If the account Batten gave to law enforcement stands up as an accurate rendering of what happened, he might have a plausible case of self-defense. But it’s way too premature to draw any conclusions. That’s why we have these things called trials where the evidence can be presented and argued.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        You want to lay some odds on this one…?? He won’t be defended/promoted nightly by Tucker Carlson, that much is for sure…

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Sounds like he should get the defense attorney in this case. Of course, there is a color difference…

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Which is why he doesn’t have a hope in hell…. no Conservative speaking tour for him, alas…

        1. Matt Adams Avatar

          “Eric the half a troll Nancy Naive • 18 minutes ago • edited
          Which is why he doesn’t have a hope in hell…. no Conservative speaking tour for him, alas…”

          If you didn’t have facts not in evidence to spout Walt, you’d have nothing at all.

      2. please see Andrew Coffee IV — again, facts are pesky creatures.

    4. One huge difference that is easily identifiable is the fact that it is a violation of state law for anyone other than a law enforcement officer to carry a gun on school property.

      Furthermore, since we do not yet know whether any of the people Batten “had been feuding with” pointed a gun at him, hit him with a blunt object, kicked him, threatened to kill him, or chased him down when he tried to flee, it might be best, at least for now, to refrain from making comparisons to the Rittenhouse case.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        “… it is a violation of state law for anyone other than a law enforcement officer to carry a gun on school property.”

        “Well duh, officer. We know that! That’s why we put all the guns in the glovebox.”

        1. I thought schools were Democratic-sponsored gun free zones? how’d that gun get there?

      2. Matt Adams Avatar

        I’m also going to point out that 18 year old’s are prohibited from having a conceal carry permit that would’ve been required for said handgun.

    5. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      …and as long as you keep making snippy comments like that, you’ll never realize your potential of being a full troll.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Think of me as more of a slacker half troll…

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          “half” is MORE than adequate for Eric… IMHO… especially when legitimate and substantive observations in a Conservative blog are called ‘trolling’ when, in fact, they are dead on correct most of the time!

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    This type of thing is going on across the country in many high schools. And apparently some are blaming this on school administrators for a lack of school discipline. interesting.

    We’ve had schools shut down 2 or 3 times in the last year or two – and the schools do refer the perpetrators to law enforcement as well as expel them – but it doesn’t stop it… this kind of behavior is now in society and these kids reflect it – their parents defend them.

    and this has been going on awhile – Our school system has had to put cameras in all hallways of all it’s schools.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      this is from FOX News and the Rutherford Institute – a conservative group that defends ‘liberities’;

      “Andrew Mikel is merely the latest in a long line of victims whose educations have been senselessly derailed by school administrators lacking in both common sense and compassion,” says Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “We have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials.”

      Spotsylvania also referred the case to law enforcement, which placed Mikel in a diversion program where he had to take anger management classes. Whitehead is trying to get his record expunged and recently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after getting nowhere in Virginia’s state courts. He blames the proliferation of “zero tolerance” polices at America’s schools.

      “I’m afraid of what we are doing in our public schools today,” he explained. “We are cracking down so hard on students that we are making them very compliant.”

      This is what School administrators are up against.

      They get blamed no matter what. It’s almost an impossible job now days with the anti-maskers and anti-CRTers and other assorted wacadoodles running amok.

  6. Mr. Bacon’s article provides a portion of Batten’s side of the story. Here are some excerpts from a Daily Press article which provide a different perspective:

    “Investigators learned there were “gestures” exchanged between Batten and Justice Dunham, who were on opposite sides of the gym during Tuesday’s Menchville-Woodside basketball game that led to an “altercation” in the parking lot.

    [Newport News Police Chief Steve] Drew said when the two teenagers left the gym, Dunham went to the vehicle he arrived in and Batten approached him, leading to an altercation between the two in which a gun was fired.

    Batten was detained at the scene, and police formally arrested him a few hours later. Accounts from students and community members who witnessed the incident resulted in Batten’s arrest, Drew said.

    Police found one shell casing and three firearms — one used in the shooting and two more in the glove compartment of the vehicle in which Dunham rode with his friends. It is unclear if Dunham drove.”

    Batten has been charged with second-degree murder, use of a firearm and possession of a firearm on school property.

    1. It is fairly clear that Jim’s original point was concerning school discipline but finally the presence of guns and the easy access to them enters the discussion. Three guns brought to school and, guess what, violence ensues. Probably, a safe bet that all three were possessed illegally.

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Speaking of things falling apart… Sacklers Can Be Sued!
    West Virginia was the biggest victim, but that border between us is thin, and the damage these aristoSacklersO$#!^ wrought goes to the bone.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Oh yeah, and Fox News ain’t doin’ much better than the Sacklers.

    2. how_it_works Avatar

      Interesting website that tracks opioid prescriptions:

      Too bad it doesn’t say how many of them Medicaid paid for…

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I noticed the data ends in 2012, but by then most had realized what the bastards were doing. The fun part is when the first suit hits a court… DISCOVERY!

        1. how_it_works Avatar

          Pretty slick trick, hooking people (who already have a tendency to abuse anything you can drink, huff, shoot up or smoke) on painkillers….

          I read somewhere that doctors are actually supposed to check if the patient or their family has a history of substance abuse before prescribing painkillers.

          And another thing I’ve never been able to find an answer to–Virginia has a prescription monitoring program(PMP), yet a patient who already has a 30-day prescription for painkillers can go to the ER, tell them that they have stomach pains and the pain is a 10, and get more painkillers. And do this every few days.

          It’s like they don’t even bother to check the PMP. Nor do they put the info into the PMP that the patient got more pain meds at the ER, so their pain doctor can find out and cut them off.

          By the way, the going rate in Northern Virginia for pain management is $150 for a 15-minute office visit. That’s the Medicaid rate, with zero co-pay.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            It’s nothing new; it’s centuries old. Close your eyes and imagine… no wait, don’t, you need them to read. It’s the late 1850s and you’re the captain of an American clipper. Built in Baltimore, 500 ton, three maybe four masts and acres of cotton sails rigged five high and three wide on the low spars. She’s yar and making 20 knots in a following sea. The largest of ships ever and a two-year old member of the largest merchant fleet that is just beginning to push into England’s longheld business of trade.

            You’re two days from Hong Kong, two months out of Mumbai, and 6 months from Boston. You’re already thinking of your homebound cargo. Your hold will be filled with porcelain, tea, silks, exoctic wood funiture, works of centuries old art, and there will be gold and silver, perhaps a ton and a measurable portion of the wealth of America.

            But there’s still a week ahead of you in Hong Kong, and you have days of hard work inventorying and bargaining for your return cargo, and offloading the rest of your cargo of cotton and tobacco you’ve carried from Virginia, and the burlap wrapped and waxed bails of opium from Mumbai that will pay for it all.

            The Sacklers are the current merchants of a long line of the opium trade. China? Fentanyl? A dish served cold, says I, and it’s been a long time coming.

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Virginia’s schools are in a tight spot. The number of threats against our schools just between Thanksgiving and Xmas is unprecedented. The latest Tic Tok challenge was not helping much either. Bet you had no idea that every public school in this state was on the look out today for trouble thanks to Tic Tok.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      The question unanswered is how many of those threats came from adults and spawned of political motives against public schools? CRT Round Two.

      If the mentally challenged, Trump led GOP can attack the halls of Congress, what chance does a public school have?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        You mean these yahoos showing up at school board meetings ranting about masks, CRT and bad books would also make phone calls and social media posts to further screw things up?

        Oh wait!

        Yes.. JAB.. likes to talk about ‘Falling Apart’, is that what he means?

        I note that these supposed parent grassroots organization are actually funded by GOP PACs.

        So the strategy is apparently is to continue and escalate attacks on public schools … then claim things are “falling apart”. Very cool…

  9. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    There’s the Lord of the Flies again. Seriously, you guys really have to drop fictional works as models of human behavior. Or, at least change it up. Hey, maybe there’s a love interest involved that will come out, and you can go with A West Side Story.

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