WARREN, R.I. (WPRI) — The Bristol-Warren Regional School Committee voted Wednesday to place a police officer at Kickemuit Middle School after the local teachers’ union reported concerns of unruly behavior and safety issues at the school.
The committee also voted to create a subcommittee specifically to discuss the issues, and directed the superintendent to get additional therapeutic services for the school “as soon as possible.”
The concerns over safety grew to a boiling point last week when a large number of teachers called out sick, forcing the school to be closed on Friday.
Bristol-Warren Education Association President Michelle Way DaSilva said the teachers called out because of concerns over the safety of both students and teachers.
After Wednesday’s meeting, DaSilva said she was pleased with the actions taken as a first step. She added that she would prefer the school have a full-time School Resource Officer, which it currently does not have.
Before taking the series of votes in executive session, the school committee heard from twelve teachers who reported issues ranging from lack of resources for special needs students to physical altercations and teacher injuries.
“A student got in two fights the first week of school and received zero consequences,” said 7th grade science teacher Mary Arsenault.
Arsenault told the committee three teachers have been assaulted this school year, a figure the superintendent disputed. Superintendent Mario Andrade said one teacher injury had been recorded this year.
“Our school is currently serving more as a triage than a place to grow,” said Emily McCaffrey, a Language Arts teacher. “We need no more band-aids.”
Teachers lamented a dearth of staff members including teaching assistants, behavioral specialists and social workers who could help with students with behavioral problems and special needs, thereby freeing up teachers to teach their classes.
“We cannot give the students the time and attention they need and also give the rest of the class the attention they deserve,” music teacher Andre Arsenault said.
“The measures that are being taken at KMS right now are not working,” said music teacher Melissa Labonte. “They’re not working because of the behavior of the children, particularly the ones in most need, the behavior is not changing.”
Warren police said they’ve been called to the middle school 18 times this school year, including four times for fights and twice for possession of a knife. A police report from October said a teacher was injured after being pushed down by a student while she was trying to break up a fight between him and another student.
Superintendent Mario Andrade said he has the “utmost respect” for the teachers and appreciated their comments Wednesday. The school committee went into executive session to discuss possible solutions after hearing from the teachers.
“They’re beautiful suggestions, I’m hoping that again we can work together and come up with ways to implement those,” Andrade said, adding that the school district is researching Alternative Learning Plans that could help provide more resources to students with behavioral issues.
“But that takes a lot of time and money,” Andrade said.
The new subcommittee designated to discuss the issues will meet on Feb. 11, and report its findings to the full school committee on Feb. 25.