Haverhill schools are hiring two new adjustment counselors and two security guards for the high school, bringing in a school resource officer for a middle school and adopting a zero-tolerance policy on student use of cell phones during any fights.
The Haverhill School Committee took the steps last night to get ahead of what has been a disciplinary problem at schools around the country largely blamed on the pandemic and social media. Mayor James J. Fiorentini called for seizure of student phones, noting their roles in aggravating behavioral problems when videos are shared on social media.
“I think we have to take immediate action and that immediate action should be that we have a policy that if a student videotapes a fight, that student loses his cell phone, his or her cell phone,” he said.
The cell phone policy followed a line of questioning by Committee member Richard J. Rosa that found no disciplinary rules are in place for misuse. Members unanimously agreed to leave specifics, such as how long the phone should be taken away, up to school administrators.
Repeating statistics shared with families Tuesday, administrators said, Haverhill High School has experienced 15 fights involving a total of 44 students since the beginning of the school year. In addition, there have been issues involving a serious lack of respect by some students towards teachers and other staff members.
School Superintendent Margaret Marotta told the School Committee Thursday that the vast majority of students have adapted well to the return to the classroom but there is a small percentage who are having trouble doing so.
“We have so many really great kids in our school system and we have a small pocket of kids that are really struggling right now. We’ve always had kids that struggle, however, their struggles are magnified over the last two years and it’s really difficult. It’s difficult for the kids and it’s difficult for the teachers and I’m sure it’s difficult for the parents,” she said.
The superintendent said her staff has been working closely with an outside organization, Riverside Trauma Center, to find ways to help students and staff in reacclimating. Julia Campion, a senior manager there, gave an overview of the problem.
“Trauma and mental health impact students’ behaviors, at home, in school and in the community. Adolescents respond to trauma in varying ways and we may see externalizing behaviors, like aggression,” she said.
Campion went on to say such behavior is a call for support and a predictable routine.
Haverhill High Director of Guidance Jami Dion said counselors are seeing five times the number of students needing help this year than any year previous. “Behaviors that counselors are seeing more of, avoidance of class, crying, panic attacks, aggression, so poor impulse control. Students are really having a hard time regulating their emotions in a response to something,” she explained.
Asked what measures are being taken to reduce these behavioral issues, High School Principal Jason Meland said lunch schedules have been adjusted to have fewer students in the cafeteria at the same time. Staff are also supervising the hallways and the bathrooms.
The Committee approved budget transfers to pay for the two new adjustment 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 agreed to unanimously and the last passed by a vote of 6-0 with Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. abstaining.