Violence in the schools

   We decided to reprint the article “Are your children safe at school?” because the situation seems to continue to escalate.

    Last January, basketball coach Paul Neal was kicked on one knee by a student that had been spelled from the high school and managed to get in. He was taken to the hospital and had to take a couple of days off but nobody knew it because there was no publicity of that incident.

    One month later, he was again attacked by an 18-year-old student resulting on a security guard at the high school receiving seven stitches above one eye and the student being arrested. From the attack on basketball coach Neal to the Wetherbee School teacher who got her sweater set on fire by a student, and all the incidents involving drugs and weapons in the elementary grades many of which are kept under wraps by the school system are indications of the increase of violence in the public schools. These are just what I get to hear due to the secrecy in the school system.

    Police Chief John J. Romero has been insisting in recent years about the need for police presence in the schools to which the Superintendent of Schools Wilfredo Laboy is completely adamant. The moment there is police at the schools, those incidents will be duly reported and they will give a black eye to his administration of the Lawrence Public Schools.

    The fact is that discipline has disappeared at all levels. Students know that nothing will happen to them and thus abuse the system. Teachers in several elementary grades have told me that they fear that someday a child will be killed at school and only then, something will be done.

    At the Oliver School, specifically, a teacher said that the janitor is running the school because the administrators are always absent traveling or attending meetings at Central Office. Every time administrators leave the building, the teachers have to fill in for them and the children ultimately are the ones who suffer the consequences being left with teacher aides.

    The high school principal was out of the building last week when an incident required two ambulances and a rescue truck to be summoned there. We heard that there was a stabbing but no other details due to the secrecy held.

    At the Guilmette School, a teacher who did not want to be identified said that she’s afraid to go out of her room and locks herself in her classroom until it is time to go home. “They could be killing themselves in the hallway and I won’t go out.” No one should have to work under that threat for her safety.

    Recently, in a Roberto Frost School classroom, a group of students was practicing for the MCAS test when a boy threw a ball of paper to another hitting him in the face. He got up and slapped the offender a couple of times and the teacher did nothing. When the aide asked her who she was not sending him to the office as punishment she answered that they would not do anything to them anyway. And the kids know it!

   The Teachers Union is well aware of these complaints from its members. Besides their personal safety, their property is also jeopardized. Their cars are commonly vandalized and there is no police protection for that, either. Last week, Mr. Bishop, a teacher at Lawrence High School had his car headlights stolen in the parking lot. The Union even included some measures in their new contract to be negotiated with the city but no one is listening.

   Now, it seems that the parents of the Guilmette School are taking the lead to get something done. They are circulating a letter and collecting signatures to be presented to the School Committee which they hope will be placed on the agenda of their March 25th meeting.

   Among the complaints they posed in their letter, they blame Principal Kathleen Burke for the lack of discipline at that school. The example should trickle from the top and Mrs. Burke is very disrespectful to parents as well as students. Her behavior is imitated by teachers who, according to the parents, ridicule, insult and verbally abuse students.

   These parents are also asking for some
very sensible alternatives to prevent more incidents from taking place. If they cannot depend on the teachers to watch the students, perhaps having more television cameras in the hallways is the answer. They are also suggesting separate entrances for elementary grades and middle grades. They will also be happy to see metal and drug detectors.

   The next meeting of the Lawrence School Committee is this coming Thursday, March 11, at seven o’clock. Public participation is a great vehicle for parents to be heard.

   Dalia Díaz

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