Superintendent to investigate EHS parents’ concerns

By CAITLIN ASHWORTH

@kate_ashworth

Published: 04-06-2017 11:36 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Superintendent Nancy Follansbee will investigate concerns about bullying and safety raised by parents and students of Easthampton High School.

On Wednesday, some parents called for the removal of Principal Kevin Burke, saying the administration has failed to address incidents of harassment and bullying. The request was presented by Jonathan Poirier, who represented a group of EHS parents.

“There have been a number of concerns and statements made about the high school,” Follansbee said. “I’m going to investigate their concerns.”

To get the facts of alleged incidents at EHS, Follansbee said she will interview students and faculty. Follansbee said she spoke to a number of faculty members Thursday and met with some parents on Wednesday. She said she will interview anyone who might be a witness to incidents shared by parents and students.

The next School Committee meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the second floor meeting area of the Municipal Building, 50 Payson Ave.

Committee member Peter Gunn, who acted as chairman at Wednesday’s meeting, said the concerns of parents and students had not been voiced to the committee before.

Considering a large number of parents attended the meeting and voiced concerns, Gunn said the committee will be looking into the underlying facts that led parents to those concerns.

“The Easthampton Public School District has, and has always, cared deeply about the civil rights of all out students,” Gunn said.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Poirier also said a group of up to 30 parents is calling for the installation of a new school resource officer because they say Officer Alan Schadel has a conflict of interest.

Police Chief Robert Alberti said it’s standard practice for officers to recuse themselves from a situation when there is possible conflict of interest.

Schadel has served as the district’s school resource officer for just over a decade. He has been on medical leave for the past two months, and two officers are serving as school liaisons.

“We’re doing the best we can with staffing and budget limitations,” Alberti said.

Some worry about the students’ safety at EHS, noting a physical assault on March 29, where three students punched another student who allegedly used a racial slur in a message. Those three students were later arrested on charges of assault and battery.

EHS student Kyana Otero and her parents submitted a letter to the editor stating that criminalizing the assault was a step in the wrong direction and that some students of color report feel unsafe coming to school.

Alberti said the Easthampton public schools are as “safe as they’ve ever been” and there “should not be a concern about the safety and security of the schools.”

Others are concerned with how last week’s assault was handled.

Landon Jenkins, father of a student involved in the assault, spoke at Wednesday’s meeting concerned about his son’s punishment and the precedent the incident set for future conflicts.

“I believe suspension would have been sufficient,” Jenkins said Wednesday. “In the future, if a kid throws one punch, like my kid did, I expect them to be suspended for five days, (and face) criminal charges.”

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office is aware of incidents at Easthampton High School, has been in touch with local police and will be reaching out to the school to gather more information, according to spokeswoman Emalie Gainey.

Following reports across the country of harassment and intimidation after Election Day, Gainey said the Massachusetts AG’s office established a hotline for people to call if they have experienced or witnessed bias-motivated threats, harassment or violence.

While reports from EHS did not come directly through the hotline, Gainey said the office has received complaints through the hotline involving about 20 different schools, varying from graffiti to bullying to other issues.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.

]]>