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Chambersburg parents voice frustration over tensions among students

Written by Becky Metrick/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Sep 21, 2017 7:50 AM
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Parent Lance Walker asks questions during Tuesday's meeting. Members of Pennsylvania State Police met with parents Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 to address issues at Chambersburg Area Senior High School. PSP Sgt. William Slaton spoke to parents about the fines and jail time students could face if they are charged. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Chambersburg) -- Frustration over racially based bullying, the feeling of being ignored by school officials, and a lack of communication with the school district were among the chief concerns parents and concerned community members voiced Tuesday evening in response to recent fights and tensions at the high school. 

There were only an estimated 150 people at the meeting, held to bring together the parents of the more than 2,400 students of Chambersburg Area Senior High School.

Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. William Slaton, who works with communities on tension-causing issues around the state in his role as Heritage Affairs Commander, came to talk to parents about the fights and bullying plaguing the school.

Chambersburg Area School District Superintendent Joe Padasak told parents Tuesday evening that district and high school staff "don't put up with racism," but some in the audience didn't seem to agree. Wochit

Videos of fights have spread on social media. School officials said they believe the fights have been sparked by various different issues, racial tension among them. Threats of violence posted on social media late last week prompted the district to cancel that Friday's football game. 

Interim CASHS Principal Brad Ocker said he had hoped to see more parents at the meeting. For those who were there, he dispelled several rumors. Among them: 

  • A student was not shot with a stun gun
  • The school will not close over fights
  • Fights will not lead to cancellation of homecoming, which is the week of Oct. 2-10.
 
He also said that while it's possible teachers will go on strike, he is unaware of any imminent plans. The teachers union and the district have been negotiating a new contract, and union members authorized the negotiating team to call a strike when and if the team deems that a strike is necessary. 

As for the rumors involving students, Slaton discussed the reality of the situation and spoke openly about how threats, fights and similar conduct can affect a student's life.

Parents talked for an hour about things their children and their children's friends have been experiencing at the high school.

Racial slurs are hurled around heavily at the school, and teachers often do not do anything about it, parents said. 

Ocker recommended parents report those teachers directly to him, but they pushed back, saying teachers should just act then and there to fix the problem.

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Transparency is a key point of frustration for many parents. Many asked how the school has been handling tension and fights, and why the school has not been more open about the ongoing issues. 

Assistant Superintendent Cathy Dusman responded to one mother asking about an incident that she believed was the catalyst to all the rumors and violence, saying that student confidentiality is a factor. 

"But I will tell you this, that issue that you are speaking of, absolutely, 100 percent, is being addressed in a manner that it should be addressed," Dusman said. She also said that while some may agree a particular incident was a catalyst, there are others who would identify other incidents.

Sometimes, parents react just as harshly as their children when allegations of wrong-doing are posted on social media, one mother said. 

"We need more emotional intelligence," she said. "Don't let everything boil under their skin. We're all adults in here. Teach your children not to get so hype about everything."

Sgt. Slaton said his biggest takeaway from the discussion is that there is work to be done. 

"We need to make sure the school receives the appropriate diversity training," Slaton said. "Actually it sounds like this whole community might need a little diversity training."

Students, teachers and parents must be held accountable for following up on these issues and working on the tension ending the tension, Slaton said.

In a letter to parents sent Wednesday, Ocker reflected on the meeting and shared immediate changes that will be made.

Peer-to-Peer counseling will be brought to the school, which will "afford students an additional means to express concerns, seek resolution to conflicts and accept differences of their peers."

There will also be small group counseling sessions established for "students in need," Ocker wrote. The sessions will be offered during the activities period.

Slaton said several agencies are involved with working on the situation including the Governor's office, the Governor's Advisory Commission on African American Affairs and the Anti-Defamation League, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Center for Safe Schools, U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, and Senator Alloway's office. 

Chambersburg is similar to other areas in the state where Slaton has worked on problems relating to diversity and inclusion. 

"Unfortunately, on the school's part there was a brief lack of communication that caused a lot of confusion," Slaton said about Friday's confusion and game cancellation. "But I think the school is trying to implement a system now so that parents are immediately notified when something is happening."

Slaton said it's all ultimately the same. 

"Lack of communication leads to assumptions," Slaton said. 

To address the communication issues, Ocker wrote that they have established a district-wide "concern hotline" that will send messages directly to the District Superintendent.

Ocker said that if there are any other concerns, he can still be reached at CASHS, but for people with a non-emergency concern can call 717-261-5562.

"Once again, please know that I am committed to making all students feel welcome and safe at school" Ocker wrote. "I ask that you continue to reinforce tolerance in your home with your children. Your support will go a long way to help CASHS move forward."

Though Slaton told parents that they would likely need to meet again to discuss progress and ongoing issues, Tammy Stouffer, spokesperson for Chambersburg Area School District, said that the district will monitor things daily.

"If the need would arise to host another event or through the monitoring it is determined necessary, one will be planned," Stouffer said. "At this point, we have not scheduled another event."

 

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and Public Opinion Online.

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