Earlier Monday, more than 100 people gathered at Lawrence High School to protest a series of brawls that broke out between students this month, saying staff shortages are partly to blame for the violence.
The morning protest drew teachers, parents, students, clergy and elected officials, including the mayor and two school committee members, said Kimberly Barry, president of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union. Barry criticized school administrators for failing to address the “social and emotional needs of traumatized students.”
“We cannot just ignore the problems that students bring to school with them and go straight back to testing without any effort to rebuild a school community,” she said in a statement. âThese are children and we need to invest in people and services that make them feel valued.
Fourteen students were involved in altercations on October 8, school officials said. Four days later, staff were injured as they tried to end a fight. The next day, three students were arrested in an incident at the end of the school day, officials said.
Since the start of the school year, the police have made five arrests and issued a dozen summons.
âOur kids are in crisis right now,â Barry said last week. âWe think the district should hire additional staff – teachers, mental health workers, nurses – because everyone is very dispersed right now. “
School committee member Joshua Alba said there was a need for more teachers, teaching assistants, psychologists, emergency counselors and nurses at the school, which has more than 3,000 students.
Alba blamed Superintendent Cynthia Paris’ current leadership and state oversight on the city’s schools for the past decade. The neighborhood is overseen by the Lawrence Alliance for Education, a nonprofit that hired Paris in 2018.
âThe superintendent mismanages the district and is not held accountable by any elected body. Parents have no voice, âsaid Alba. âEnd of receivership. Let us come back to local control. Let us run things.
Alba said the rally was “really powerful” and stressed the need for change.
âA lot of people want to blame children, parents or even educators,â he said. “But it really depends on the structural constraints at play here.”
School committee member Jonathan Guzman said he attended the rally to support the teachers.
âMost of these kids were at home a year ago, they didn’t have the opportunity to be high school students,â he said. Guzman said he also wanted the state to cede control of the district.
âWe are not in a position to control what is going on in our school system,â Guzman said.
Similar protests are planned before school every morning this week, said Steve Crawford, spokesperson for the teachers’ union.
“We expect the number of participants to increase,” he said.
State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and Paris were invited to attend Monday night’s meeting, but Riley sent someone from the state’s K-12 education agency in his place. , according to a state spokesperson. Paris attended the meeting.
Residents and elected officials were able to give their opinion to the municipal council and the members of the school committee present, as well as to the director general, concerning the recent incidents and the state of the receivership. However, those who approached the microphone were to address the group as a whole and not isolate a member.
Even so, someone who approached the microphone called for Paris to resign, a call that was greeted with cheers and applause from across the room.
Another, a Lawrence High School alumnus, said these incidents at the school are nothing new but are now “getting worse and worse”.
In light of recent events, she said, her daughter has not been to school for a week. These incidents, along with having to deal with the pandemic, she said, will have an impact on students.
âThese kids are going to end up with PTSD because of everything they witness every day at Lawrence High and someone has to be held accountable for that – enough is enough,â she said.
Last week, Vasquez announced additional security resources for the school, including two school resource officers and two community police officers. He suggested that the disruption showed that returning to class in person after such a long absence had a mental and emotional impact on students, educators and the community.
Vasquez said last week that the participation of local school administrators and state officials will be needed to address the root cause of the violence.
“I have done everything in my power to provide assistance to the district within the confines of the receivership,” he said.
Felicia Gans of The Globe Staff contributed to this report.