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School Supt. addresses Council subcommittee’s school district safety concerns

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  This week, School Superintendent Dr. Diane Kelly and School Resource Officer Sgt. Joseph Internicola met with the City Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee to discuss safety issues in Revere Public Schools. Councillor-at-Large Dan Rizzo said he requested the meeting after reading a news report about Boston’s Tobin Middle School that detailed an incident involving of a group of five students who had ingested cannabis edibles and were taken to the hospital. Rizzo said that report and other things he’s heard about city schools had him, parents and other councillors concerned.

  Kelly began the discussion with a PowerPoint presentation filled with numbers and statistics. “Discipline and behavior in schools have been a challenge for the past couple of years,” she told the committee. She then explained that the disruption of Covid, the legalization of marijuana and a change in state law about how students can be disciplined have made schools challenging environments.

  Kelly’s numbers, which were from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, began with 608 students, or 27 percent, of the RHS community who this year were chronically absent or truant. “That is significantly higher than we’re used to but better than last year so we’re headed in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go,” said Kelly.

  Kelly also showed the committee a slide that detailed 76 incidents of students being suspended from school. There were 262 incidents that involved disciplinary responses for a range of behaviors. Committee members focused on 11 incidents involving illegal substances and 58 fights. They did not respond to the 20 incidents of students having a weapon or firearm in school. Kelly instead pointed to the highest category that triggered discipline, which was non-drug, nonviolent and noncriminal behavior. She explained that category typically involved students not being in a class, or being insubordinate to a teacher or administrator.

  Ward 3 Councillor Anthony Cogliandro said he is concerned about teachers, many of whom are leaving Revere this year. Cogliandro read an email from one teacher who described Revere High as a horrible place to work. The teacher went on to say there is no attendance policy, no cell phone policy, no consistent discipline and that teachers feel devalued and bullied. “I’ve had family members who have been mistreated,” said Cogliandro, who added that he left teaching because a child wanted to fight with him.

  Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti, who also serves on the Public Safety Subcommittee, said there are questions among parents about student safety. Visconti said one mother sent him five different videos of fights in the corridors of the high school with groups of 15 to 20 kids standing by watching. “What’s being done?” asked Visconti. “What are the disciplinary actions?”

  Kelly said 58 students fighting doesn’t mean 58 fights. “You have to cut the number in half,” she said, adding that out of school suspensions are up this year.

  “We don’t always have the information so we can address [a fight)” she added. “When we can, we address those students, connect them with the SRO officer and suspend them from school.”

  Visconti also asked about school bathrooms, adding that he has heard some students won’t even use the bathrooms because other students are congregating, smoking and vaping. Kelly said there are now bathroom monitors who keep students moving.

  The district has also increased its security staff and hired additional counselors and specialists to work with students. Kelly said the challenges with funding have eased somewhat thanks to dollars from the Student Opportunity Act.

  Rizzo mentioned that the number of students looking to transfer to the vocational school has risen dramatically. “And it’s not because they want to learn a trade,” he said. “We have to turn this around.”

  School Resource Officer Internicola focused on phones and vapes as challenges with student behavior. He said parents need to be aware of what their kids are carrying to school. However, he also said the problems at the high school are not unique to Revere. He recently attended a safety conference of school resource officers, and conversations focused on the same problems.

  Kelly also brought good news to the meeting. Enrollment in AP classes is up, nearly 60 percent of Revere students go on to higher education, and the honors program is more accessible to students and drawing in more participants.

  Visconti praised Revere teachers and students and stressed there was no intention to paint Revere High with a broad negative brush. He even chuckled slightly and mentioned The Nutrons, the RHS Robotics teams waiting in the wings to receive commendations from the City Council for placing second globally in the First World Championship. Committee members said they hoped to ease any community concerns, assure teachers that they are respected and valued and help continue the city’s tradition of exceptional education.

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