BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) – Bristol-Warren public schools will soon hire a school resource officer and will maintain a police presence on school grounds in the wake of complaints about safety and unruly student behavior at Kickemuit Middle School. 

The school will also keep a behavioral specialist at the school five days a week. The announcement came at Monday’s school committee meeting, where a special subcommittee on the Kickemuit Middle School’s safety and security released a list of proposals to address parent, student and teacher complaints.

Three students from the regional middle school kicked-off public comment at the packed meeting, saying the atmosphere at their school is impacting their ability to learn.

“We are here today to give insight into what goes on in our everyday classes,” Jeffrey Gonzalez, an eight grader, told the panel. “Our educations are being destroyed, which has become the normal.”

Gonzalez and his peers talked about the growing disrespect they’ve observed between students and teachers, outlining how students now sometimes walk out of class without permission.

“We are losing the education we want, need and deserve,” Gwen Tucker, another eighth grader said.

The issue of safety and behavioral problems at the school reached a boiling point in late January when a large number of teachers called out sick from the school, prompting the district to cancel classes.

As of Feb. 1, police had been called to the school 18 times. Police reports obtained by Eyewitness News revealed a teacher was hurt while trying to stop a fight between two boys in a hallway in October.

At a school committee meeting in early February, the panel voted to create a subcommittee devoted specifically to look into the issues at the regional middle school. 

On Monday, district superintendent Dr. Mario Andrade said the members of the subcommittee had visited other middle schools in the area and planned future visits. He said they’ll be putting together a “multi-tiered support system” in the coming weeks.

Lawrence Purtill, President of the the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI), said the ideas were a step in the right direction, though he cautioned they wouldn’t be a quick fix.

“What you’re going through is not unlike what a lot of school districts are going through,” he said. “Fifty-percent of our students coming into our schools today in almost all grades are having issues. So the mental health concerns and the discipline concerns need to be addressed.”

Parents who testified before the committee Monday night agreed, citing ongoing issues at the elementary level as well, particularly at the Hugh Cole Elementary School.

“I compare what my children are being exposed to on a daily basis at school to an abusive relationship,” one mother said.

Sonni Almeida, who has a child at Hugh Cole, said the district needs to address the issues with the younger children, too.

“I think it’s silly that they’re putting all this money and resources into Kickemuit Middle School when they really need to be addressing the underlying issue which is at the elementary school,” she said.

Michelle Way DaSilva, co-president of the Bristol-Warren teachers’ union, BWEA, said the district should be addressing behavioral concerns at all grade levels.

“I think that the district is moving in the right direction I do think that it’s imperative that they stick to every one of those steps,” she said.