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Parents seek communication from Chambersburg Area School District

Written by Becky Metrick/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Sep 18, 2017 11:20 AM
chambersburg_high_school.jpg

Chambersburg Area School District (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Chambersburg) -- Fear had reached a tipping point for many as parents and students gathered Friday at the entrance of Chambersburg Area Senior High School. 

Fights had been plaguing the school hallways for weeks, according to parents, and social media threats that surfaced Thursday about the next day's football game pushed the situation to its boiling point, leading additional police officers to deploy to the campus to ensure security.  

There had been about six fights in just the first two weeks of school, according to Assistant Superintendent Cathy Dusman, but she said she believes many people think there have been more. Students and parents reported that some of them were broadcast over social media, reaching a wide audience. 

While the school was dealing with the threat about the football game, an ambulance showed up at the high school Friday morning and the school was placed on modified lockdown, heightening tensions among students and parents as rumors swirled. But the timing was mere coincidence; according to Dusman, a student had a medical emergency, and the lockdown was called to ensure medical personnel could reach the student without battling students moving between classes.

As parents began showing up, the district soon announced that parents could take their students out of school for the day, and it could count as an excused absence. 

Arthur David Bonjour was among the dozens of parents who came for their kids. 

"It was almost role reversal, students were contacting parents hours before anything popped up (from the district)," said Bonjour, whose son is a junior. "Their automated thing was two-three hours after I had my son."

Dusman said the district put out a robocall to alert families to what was going on. But like Bonjour, some parents said it came too late. 

Parent Megan Ramsey said that while she knew about the threats the night before from her daughter, she didn't hear from the school district until it published a release on its website about the fights at the school and the threat that led to the game cancellation.

Both she and Bonjour said they knew about the threats made over social media, but felt OK to send their students to school, trusting the administrators and security staff.

They also knew from their children that there have been fights at the school, with one or more daily happening since last Monday. 

"Lunch period seems to be a very chaotic time. Every day there seems to be a fight," Ramsey said. 

"The fights during lunch, yelling in the hallways, it's just escalating more and more," Bonjour said. 

Bonjour said he believed a lot of the fighting stemmed from "political rhetoric" that has created separation among cliques. 

"Now it's turning into an us-vs.-them, which is is ridiculous in a high school," Bonjour said. 

Dusman said she feels some people are trying to tie the fights to racial motivations, but the administration doesn't believe that's accurate.

"We have such an incredible diversity here in this building, and honestly for the most part, students really accept the diversity and there are no issues," Dusman said. 

Ramsey said she has told her daughter to be careful, make sure she's always with a group, and steer as clear as possible of any situation that might break out.

"It sounds like the school is trying to weed out the people that are involved in this, but as they take one away, another leader steps up and they're just continuing what's been started," Ramsey said. "It's not just one kid, it's big groups of kids that are working against each other."

Both parents, though trusting the school initially, are at least intimidated by the prospect of putting their children back into the school.

Ramsey said she supports the administration but just wants to know what the plan is.

"I am confident that they will resolve this but I'll feel much better when we parents are told what their plan of action is," Ramsey said. She understands that the administration may not have had all the facts to make a decision, let alone let parents know, but still felt they would keep her kids safe.

Assistant superintendent at Chambersburg Area Senior High School Cathy Dusman discusses the incident that happened the morning of Sept. 15 at the school. Becky Metrick, Public Opinion

 

She ultimately brought her daughter home when things started becoming chaotic, believing that there was no use being at school when her daughter was uncomfortable and there was no chance at productivity.

Bonjour said he feels the school needs to address the fights with the parents. As it is, he feels paranoid to send his kids to school in the current environment..

"If there's physical altercations, that needs to be separated by the teachers, whether school police are involved, that's something all parents need to know about," Bonjour said.

Bonjour believes there should have been more communication about the situation earlier in the day.

"I don't feel comfortable sending my kid to a school that cannot provide any kind of safety or good communication skills," Bonjour said.

Dusman said that because of the need to protect student privacy, the district cannot discuss incidents with parents as much as parents would like.

However, Dusman said the district is following its policy with regards to fights, and students have been suspended and faced administrative review, which can result in outside placement or expulsion.

"Fights do happen in high school, nobody's happy with it, and we have been working with those involved," Dusman said. "we have been taking very serious measures."

As for the violence, enough is enough, Bonjour said. 

"I feel really sad for the children that are there at the school and have to deal with something like this," Bonjour said. "That's probably what the school really needs to focus on, whether or not the children feel safe."

 

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

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