FRAMINGHAM - Safety at local schools was a major topic at the Framingham City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, February 6.
The agenda item for the meeting was in regards to safety specifically at Framingham High School (FHS), though attendees at the Memorial Building such as Framingham Public Schools (FPS) Superintendent Dr. Robert Tremblay did expand the scope to the entire school system at times.
Tremblay was joined by Mark Albright, the acting principal at the high school, as the superintendent summarized a seven-page FAQ memo regarding student behavior and safety at FHS that was recently published. The district claims that Framingham High, like many other schools in the United States, has seen the number of disruptions in conduct and behavior rise as of late. Those instances include non-compliance for directions and instructions from staff members, rowdiness, swearing and harmful language, physical conflicts, and skipping or leaving classes.
FPS reports that the “number of students engaging in high level unsafe behaviors,” such as fighting, is 1.9% of the FHS student population. The number of total suspensions at the high school has grown from 282 in the 2022-23 school year to 585 in the current school year as of the end of January; within those figures, some students have been suspended multiple times. That represents nearly 39% more students receiving suspensions this school year thus far than the entirety of the previous school year, along with a roughly 107% increase in the total number of individual suspensions. About 87% of this year’s suspensions have been non-violent, according to FPS, with truancy being the most common reason.
Tremblay explained to the council that the school district is working to balance the fact that the backgrounds of students are often complex—and sometimes even traumatic—while still maintaining zero tolerance for violence at local schools in order to protect children and faculty members. He said a major challenge is identifying the needs of specific students sooner, whether it’s through an individualized educational plan or a different set of resources, in order to fulfill their right to public education.
The superintendent told councilors during the meeting that challenges to allocate proper resources don’t just start at the high school level, as the system has to be ready to evaluate children when they’re still as young as 3 years old.
“Because: if we see a student escalating behavior on day one of school and it takes us 45 days to actually get support in place, it becomes very problematic for a lot of people—not the least of which are the students themselves, who need the support,” Tremblay continued.
Tremblay said that he is planning to hold what he described as “1% meetings” with principals and other key school officials in order to determine the portion of students who may need more attention in regards to behavior.
As for the potential causes of the bad behavior they’ve seen at Framingham High and other sites, FPS has noted factors among the student body such as chronic stress, a decline in skills related to emotional, social, and behavioral management, and increased polarization and tension that is exacerbated via social media and the general post-COVID landscape.
In turn, Tremblay and Albright outlined their efforts to curb inappropriate behavior at the high school. More cameras have been installed and student IDs have become a requirement, while Albright mentioned that hallway and bathroom monitoring by staff members is being increased; both school and city officials noted the sheer number of students who have congregated in bathrooms in recent years during Tuesday's meeting. FHS is also trying to leverage positive relations with faculty and school resource officers (SROs) among students.
Albright added that their overall goal is to “be present” and to address insubordinate behavior at the high school—whether it is physical or not—before it gets out of hand.
“Our goal is, as a community—the administrators, the teachers, the students—to feel like we can turn the page on this, because this is our home and this is what we want it be,” the acting principal said.
Regarding suspensions and additional SROs, Tremblay explained that state laws dictate that schools must often try extra disciplinary steps before resorting to suspension or expulsion, while bringing in more officers is a topic that is often met with a mixed public reaction.
The superintendent said that reducing the overall enrollment at the high school could be a remedy to a number of these challenges regarding behavior. While he recognized that doing so without building another high school is a tough endeavor, he reviewed a few ideas to alleviate congestion at FHS. Following the launch of the Student Success Academy, Tremblay is now looking to move operations at the Thayer Building on Lawrence Street over to the Farley Building along Flagg Drive, considering that Massachusetts Bay Community College officially moved out of the Farley site and opened their own facility in Framingham recently. The high school’s Thayer campus provides a program that “(specializes) in Drop Out Prevention,” per their website. Tremblay mentioned that the move into the Farley Building would ideally occur prior to the start of the next school year, while adding that evening opportunities for high school students are also being explored.
The City Council expressed their appreciation for Tremblay and Albright being in attendance on Tuesday, though multiple councilors stressed that all students, teachers, and school staff members have to feel safe at Framingham High. Members like District 6 Councilor and City Council Chair Phil Ottaviani cited what they’ve seen as an increase of videos of students fighting at the high school.
“It’s just not a good look, it’s not a good look for Framingham…You go to school and there’s violence, it’s disruptive,” Ottaviani told Tremblay.
“How do kids learn if they don’t feel safe?”
Other councilors called for additional regulation of cell phones and social media during school hours.
Multiple teachers from across the school district—not just FHS—attended Tuesday's meeting and spoke to the council, detailing their concerns regarding safety for themselves along with students and the school community as a whole. Educators including Cameron Middle School teacher Samantha Snyder said that the few students who act inappropriately have exhausted what tools faculty members have at their disposal to solidify a proper learning environment for children across Framingham.
“Teachers, students, and administration need more support,” Snyder continued.
“We need more solutions for our high-need students who are exhibiting unsafe behavior and not responding to intervention. We need leadership from (FPS’) Central Office to come to our schools more frequently and actually observe this behavior that we’re talking about, and we need to be believed when we say that a student needs more support instead of being told that we are not doing enough.”
“I’ve been a teacher at FHS for 20 years,” Susan Corcoran said later during the topic’s public comment period.
“I love teaching, I do, but the severe behaviors that we are seeing are not the same that I saw, maybe, seven years ago. It’s worse.”
Going forward, the City Council reiterated their intentions to work alongside the school district in order to find a solution that keeps everyone safe.
“I know we’re all big supporters of public education,” District 3 City Councilor Adam Steiner told Tremblay and Albright.
“We’re ready to go the extra mile to do what we need to do to create a safe environment. We just need you to set a goal that we’ll meet up to, and we’ll provide the resources you need.”
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