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Unbelievable School Decisions: Student Cage Match

Regardless of age group or geography, a fight is going to break out at some point in every school in America. To those in education, this is not a stunning revelation. But when investigators discovered that a Dallas high school was encouraging student vs. student brawls, going as far as to stage Thunderdome-like fights for the entertainment of the faculty, academia’s collective jaw hit the ground.

While not as elaborate as the "Mad Max" version, South Oak Cliff's thunderdome was allegedly just as brutal.

South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, TX is known as a typical inner-city school, with predictable inner-city school problems, including student violence. Rather than take a more traditional prevention approach, then-principal Donald Moten and several other faulty members staged one-on-one fights between the more violent offenders. Internal investigation documents obtained in 2008 by the Dallas Morning News allege that the students were brought to an enclosed cage in an area of the boys’ basketball locker room and locked in. There they would fight with bare knuckles and no head protection until only one was able to walk out.

The fights, which the documents say were organized between 2003 and 2005, were described by Frank Hammond, a former South Oak High School employee, in the News as “gladiator-style entertainment for the staff. They were taking these boys downstairs to fight. And it was sanctioned by the principal and security.”

The investigation by the school district's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) found that Moten and other faculty members “knew of the practice, allowed it to go on for a time, and failed to report it.”

That OPR investigation was launched after the cage fights were discovered during a different investigation at the school for grade fixing. The grade-fixing scandal resulted in South Oak Cliff forfeiting the 2006 state boys’ basketball championship.

While the grade-fixing scandal and Mad Max-style student fights discovered as a result are what earned South Oak Cliff a spot in the “Unbelievable School Decisions” series, the decision to hire Moten in the first place could very easily have constituted an entry by itself. The News reported this was a man who during his tenure in education, faced charges of:

  • Grade fixing (twice)
  • Credit card abuse
  • Inappropriate sexual relations with students’ mothers

Prior to becoming an educator, Moten served several years as a police officer. During that time he staged his own kidnapping and was involved in the fatal shooting of an 81-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer. The News also reported that he had a history of being late for work and that at least once he drove his squad car on the sidewalk with lights and sirens on in an attempt to make it work on time.

After the cage-fight incidents at the high school, Moten moved from South Oak Cliff to Jackson Elementary, where he worked for two years before stepping down.

Related resources

Read other articles in the Unbelievable School Decisions series:

Unbelievable School Decisions: Your Teacher Isn’t Really Dead
Unbelievable School Decisions: Child Stranded in Tree
Unbelievable School Decisions: Kids Made to Don Prison Jumpsuits
Unbelievable School Decisions: Baby Bunnies Buried Alive
Unbelievable School Decisions: "Pucker Up" Pep Rally
Unbelievable School Decisions: Cheating Teachers

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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