Haverhill Schools hire two new adaptation counselors and two high school security guards, bring in a school resources manager for a college, and adopt a zero-tolerance policy on student cell phone use during fighting .
Haverhill’s school committee took action last night to get ahead of what has been a discipline issue in schools across the country largely blamed on the pandemic and social media. Mayor James J. Fiorentini has called for the seizure of students’ phones, noting their role in worsening behavior problems when videos are shared on social media.
âI think we need to take immediate action and that immediate action should be that we have a policy that if a student films a fight, that student loses their cell phone, their cell phone,â he said.
The cell phone policy followed a series of questions posed by Committee member Richard J. Rosa who found that no disciplinary rules were in place for misuse. Members unanimously agreed to leave details, such as how long the phone was off, with school administrators.
Repeating statistics shared with families on Tuesday, administrators said Haverhill High School has seen 15 fights involving a total of 44 students since the start of the school year. In addition, there were issues involving a serious lack of respect on the part of some students towards teachers and other staff.
School superintendent Margaret Marotta told the school committee on Thursday that the vast majority of students have adjusted well back to class, but a small percentage are struggling to do so.
âWe have so many really great kids in our school system and we have a little pocket of kids who are really struggling right now. We’ve always had kids who struggle, however, their struggles have escalated over the past couple of years and it’s really tough. It’s tough for the kids and it’s tough for the teachers and I’m sure it’s tough for the parents, âshe said.
The superintendent said her staff were working closely with an outside organization, the Riverside Trauma Center, to find ways to help students and staff re-acclimatize. Julia Campion, a senior executive there, gave an overview of the problem.
âTrauma and mental health have an impact on student behaviors, at home, at school and in the community. Adolescents respond to trauma in different ways and we can see externalizing behaviors, like aggression, âshe said.
Campion went on to say that such behavior is a call for support and a predictable routine.
Haverhill High’s director of guidance, Jami Dion, said counselors see five times as many students in need of help this year than any year before. âBehaviors that counselors see more, avoidance of lessons, crying, panic attacks, aggressiveness, and therefore poor impulse control. Students really have a hard time regulating their emotions in response to something, âshe explained.
When asked about steps taken to reduce these behavioral issues, high school principal Jason Meland said lunch hours had been adjusted to have fewer students in the cafeteria at the same time. The staff also guard the hallways and bathrooms.
The committee approved budget transfers to pay for the two new adaptation counselors and two security guards for the high school as well as a school resource officer for the Dr. Albert B. Consentino school. The first two requests were accepted unanimously and the last was adopted by a 6-0 vote with abstention from Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr ..