WARREN, R.I. (WPRI) — While a union leader says an apparent teacher “sick-out” at Kickemuit Middle School came in response to concerns for their safety, Eyewitness News has learned Warren police have been called to the school 18 times this academic year.
The school was closed on Friday due to a “large number of adult illnesses,” according to a message sent out to parents Thursday night by Bristol-Warren Superintendent Mario Andrade.
Union Co-President Michelle Way DaSilva, of the Bristol-Warren Education Association, said staff members needed time to “regroup and reset” as they deal with heightened levels of stress and anxiety over “the constant disruptions of a growing number of students.”
“Teachers are also worrying about what could potentially happen next to both students and staff, as injuries have happened as a result of such behavior,” she wrote in a statement. (See DaSilva’s full statement below.)
Some such incidents have resulted in injuries, according to DaSilva.
A police report obtained by Eyewitness News revealed that one of the school’s art teachers was hurt while trying to stop a fight between two boys in the hallway back in October.
According to Warren Police Chief Peter Achilli, his officers have responded to Kickemuit four times so far this school year for reports of students fighting. He said they’ve also been called there more than a dozen additional times for a variety of other reasons: two for possession of a knife, two for disciplinary issues, two for DCYF matters, three for miscellaneous complaints, and one time each for assault, suspicious activity, possession of narcotics, vaping/smoking, and truancy.
DaSilva said attempts to work with the district to create a safe and secure learning environment have been unsuccessful.
Cayden Sumner, a 7th grader at the school, said he was disappointed to learn the school would be closed Friday but admitted that he hasn’t felt safe as of late.
“School is supposed to be a fun place where you can go and enjoy it,” Sumner said Friday. “But sometimes, the past couple weeks and the past month I’ve been feeling unsafe because I’ve just been seeing people threaten people and very unsafe things in the school.”
“I find kids getting bullied every single day and it hurts me so much,” he added. “I am part of Best Buddies and I’m the president and it’s my job to take care of kids and I do that all the time. I stand up for every single kid, no matter if I know them or I don’t, and I see kids getting bullied, kids getting picked on, I see kids crying, I sometimes see teachers crying too, which really hurts.”
Elizabeth Lima, who has a daughter in fourth grade at nearby Hugh Cole Elementary School, said she has filed a request with the school committee to remove Andrade as superintendent after she claims her daughter was repeatedly bullied and hurt by another student.
That student has since been removed from the school, according to Lima, but she said she believes more needs to be done.
“I am looking for those who were responsible to be held to the standards that I would expect a school administrator to be held to,” Lima said.
Superintendent Andrade has not immediately returned a call for comment.
But in an email to parents, the administration said they were “not informed until this morning that the significant number of absences at Kickemuit Middle School was related to teacher concerns regarding school safety.”
“We have been working together to address these concerns and a number of student supports and new protocols were put in place this year,” the email from the administration stated. “We look forward to continuing the discussion and working together, in partnership with families and local law enforcement to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment at Kickemuit.”
“The collaboration between teachers and administration is critical to this process,” it continued.
The National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) released a statement to Eyewitness News on Friday in support of Kickemuit’s teachers:
“Today the Kickemuit Middle School was closed because many teachers called in sick due to their concerns that the work environment was not safe and healthy for their students and for themselves. It is unfortunate that so many felt this action was necessary, but they felt they had no other option. Today’s action shines a spotlight on critical issues at Kickemuit Middle School. Teachers believe there are at least two issues that need to be rectified: how the school district deals with student discipline and the lack of available resources to address the behavioral and mental health of our students.
“We fully support the actions of the teachers and believe the new school committee is willing to work closely with us to guarantee to every parent that, when school opens on Monday morning, measures are in place to ensure students are being educated in a safe learning environment.
“This is ultimately not about assigning blame, but ensuring that the teachers, the administration and the school committee work together. The teachers of Bristol-Warren Education Association stand ready to be active participants in resolving these issues and working toward solutions for their students.”
Michelle Way DaSilva’s statement in full:
“Teachers have been concerned about student and staff safety and have engaged in numerous conversations in an attempt to work with administration over the past year and a half to address and resolve these concerns. These attempts by the Bristol Warren Education Association to work with the BWRSD have not resulted in satisfactory actions by the administration to ensure provisions of a well-organized and disciplined school, despite our willingness to be part of a proactive plan to address the escalating behaviors of students at KMS. As a result, the BWEA members at KMS have been enduring undue stress and anxiety over their daily frustrations of trying to provide a positive learning experience to all students despite the constant disruptions of a growing number of students. In addition, teachers are also worrying about what could potentially happen next to both students and staff, as injuries have happened as a result of such behavior. Dr. Andrade has been understanding of teachers occasionally needing “mental health days” throughout the school year to allow teachers the time needed to regroup and reset to then come back ready to continue to teach and work in the best interest of all students while enduring the rising levels of stress teachers experience on a daily basis at KMS due to student behavior and the ineffective discipline that is currently in place for our most troubled students. While teachers are convalescing they are hoping that a viable and guaranteed plan will be put in place that will provide the well-organized and disciplined school that all children and adults can thrive in.”