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Parents angered by bullying in Milford schools

By George Pelletier - Milford Bureau Chief | Nov 25, 2019

Bullying – a crisis plaguing schools across the country – was the hot button topic at the Milford school board meeting on Monday.

In a crowded room at Milford High school, parents and educators, and in some instances, parents who are educators, expressed their frustration with the growing number of incidents occurring in the Milford school district – particularly at Heron Pond and Jacques Memorial elementary schools.

Public comments, which are normally limited to three minutes per speaker, spilled well over 40 minutes at the onset of the meeting, and then for a period again after a presentation about trauma sensitive schooling.

Rob Canty, of Milford, a trained school psychologist, has two daughters at Jacques.

“The thing that I am most concerned about is the length of time that these violent behaviors have been occurring at Jacques,” he said. “And the nuisance behaviors that are happening in each of the individual classrooms as well, that are overshadowed because of the significant behaviors that are occurring.”

Canty said ever since school year started in September, his daughter has been sharing detailed, daily updates about disturbing behavior in her school.

“There are three kids, and they are losing privileges,” said Canty. “But teachers can’t handle it on their own.”

Canty asked, “Where is the line drawn?”

“This is the first experience for kids in school,” he continued. “For a lot of these kids that don’t have issues, school is traumatizing to them. School is dangerous. And if we’re going to start kids out this way, they are on a bad trajectory. And for teacher safety, too.”

Dr. Jessica Huizenga, school superintendent, clarified by stating, “We have added support at Jacques. We’ve added a special education teacher and a social worker to the building this year and have increased the number of adults in the building.”

Canty thought that was even more disturbing, if the ratio of violent acts has increased while there is more adult supervision also taking place in the building.

“We’ve put a presentation together,” said Huizenga. “I completely hear you and agree with you. We take this very seriously. I am as concerned as everyone in this room. In my letter sent home last week, I talked about the short-term immediate plan, as well as the long-term plan to put the systems and structures in place.”

Much of the room agreed with Canty, who was dismayed that violent behavior has been going on at the elementary school level in Milford since school began two and a half months ago.

There were also conversations about the number of paraprofessionals who have left the district. Conversations such as those, began a tug-of-war-of-words that would resonate throughout the nearly three-hour meeting.

Integration versus the segregation of students who are exhibiting unacceptable behavior was also discussed throughout the meeting, with most Milford taxpayers agreeing that while they are not in favor of segregation, they also do not want the behaviors of a minority of students impact the welfare of the majority.

Stephanie Cote of Milford was one of many parents who read her notes about the bullying epidemic in the Milford elementary schools.

“As a whole, we have a lot of concerns about this integrative system,” she said. “Not only have students and teachers and parents never been made fully aware of the longevity of [these] studies as well as the productivity of these children as young adults, but what we are seeing so far doesn’t seem to fit the Milford school system needs.”

There was much discussion about “trauma sensitive” classrooms versus lockdown classrooms, the lack of paraprofessionals, the number of actual violent instances versus what is being reported, and the fact that verbal outbursts have little consequences or ramifications. This was the message of many of the town’s public speakers.

“It’s only November,” Cote continued. “A lot of these kids who have a history of trauma, do not have punishments at home. Without limits, we are doing these children a disservice.”

Cote cited several days of bad behavior towards her son, including a biting incident. A classmate of her son was struck in the stomach; there were choking incidents.

“We are concerned parents and want to work with you,” she said. “Our little babies are being hurt.”

There was an outpouring of support for parents like Cote, whose children are being forced to be in a classroom with “focus students” who display violent or aggressive behaviors towards other students.

“Negligence,” said several parents.

It was motioned that the Walker Consultancy presentation on trauma sensitive schooling move forward immediately, and then allow for further public comments after the audience had a chance to see the slide show and perhaps receive some answers to their questions and hear Walker’s John Verre speak.

Walker Consulting has been collaborating with organizations to develop educational services and settings for students with significant social, emotional and behavioral challenges.

All board members physically present (Mike Hannon, Holleigh Ciardelli-Tlapa and vice chair Kevin Drew), were in favor, with the exception of board member Rick Wood, who was not physically present at the meeting and voted not in favor (via phone) of extending public comments to a time after the room had viewed the evening’s presentation. Drew disagreed with Wood, who lamented the point, then changed his vote to one of in-favor.

“What’s more important that our children’s safety?” one audience member whispered while Wood was naysaying.

“We need to add more adults in the [class] room,” said Tlapa. “We need to document all incidents of violence bullying or safety. I’m 100% of the belief that if we expose children who have not thus fore been exposed to unnecessary trauma, for the purpose of full integration of the few, that the potential detrimental impact on the many cannot be something that we put aside. It’s not working. Something has to change.”


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