Two weeks after School Committee members and WHAV called on Superintendent Margaret Marotta to release suspension data for the Nettle Middle School, Marotta confirms that suspensions at the Boardman Street campus have tripled year over year.
Sharing data at Thursday night’s meeting, Marotta said Nettle had 18 suspension days during the 2018-2019 school year, compared to 53 since school started on Aug. 27. Data was tracked from the start of school through Oct. 10.
While the superintendent confirmed the spike, she would not go on record to committee members to clarify what many, including Scott W. Wood Jr., had inquired about two weeks ago: The reason for the massive uptick. When Wood pressed Marotta Thursday night, she countered that such information is protected and not public.
According to Marotta, releasing information publicly could identify the students. “At this point when there’s only been four weeks of school, it really is specific to individual students and it begins to break down who those students are and what their punishment was,” Marotta said, adding that such information would become public at the end of the school year when reported to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Wood was less than satisfied with her response. “I strongly disagree with you. I intend to ask Solicitor (William D.) Cox, Jr. for a legal opinion and will file a freedom of information act if the superintendent will not provide the information I ask for, I will do so,” Wood said.
What Marotta would say is that most of the suspensions were due to fights, many of which occurred after school on the bus.
“We try to teach instead of suspend but we simply can’t have violence in our schools. We can’t have kids hitting one another. We have to teach them that it’s okay,” Marotta said. “We do suspend them and we have conversations and work on helping them to have better means of expressing their anger with one another.”
Under former principal Timothy Corkery, Nettle saw a host of issues last year including “non-credible” bomb scares and female student fights before Shereen Escovitz took over in August. Since then, the only major issue has been alleged threats made in September by a student who may have been in possession of a knife.
Elsewhere across the district, suspensions at Consentino Middle School, for example, saw a dramatic drop. Principle John Mele told School Committee members that decrease—from 35 suspension days in 2018 to just 10 so far this year—was largely due to a focus on the building’s positive behavior interventions and supports program, or PBIS for short. Haverhill High School, also saw marked improvement, going from 91 suspension days in 2018 to 61 this year, Marotta said.