Chicopee Public Schools Superintendent Marcus Ware made a presentation on school safety at the June 5 School Committee meeting.
Photo credit: ChicopeeTV

CHICOPEE — During the School Committee meeting on June 5, Superintendent Marcus Ware gave a presentation on school safety in response to teachers voicing concerns for their safety.

At the School Committee meeting on May 15, faculty from Chicopee Public Schools used the public comment portion of the meeting to express their concerns with the way students are acting.

Multiple members highlighted multiple events during which students were verbally and even physically abusive toward teachers.

Neither the School Committee nor Ware responded during public input because according to the rules of the meeting, questions asked by the public will be referred to the committee on an administrative staff for consideration and later response.

Ware talked about why he or the committee did not respond at that time.

He said, “I just want the public to know that during public comment, we can’t respond. I got a lot of emails and phone calls asking why I didn’t speak or why didn’t certain members speak. During public comment is their time to speak to whatever they want to speak to, and we listen.”

The presentation gave an update on school health and safety in Chicopee Public Schools.

There were multiple systems used to gather information about how a student’s conduct is reported within the 15 buildings.

Ware said he has talked to Chicopee Education Association President and teacher Laura Demakis about how the systems were not uniform.

A new digital system has been discussed as of two months ago, and some kinks still need to be ironed out, according to Ware, but the presentation still shows the overall trends over the last few school years.

He acknowledged that the needs of students have increased drastically, administration is reporting more escalated behavior and more members have reported more disruptions and injuries by students.

Ware added, “Before I took this job, I watched a year of School Committee videos to really understand what was going on in Chicopee. This has been the same conversation coming up for years.”

The presentation showed additional staff that has been hired to address student misconduct concerns including three — out of four — school resource officers, two additional vice principals at the high school, 10 safety and security officers at secondary schools, five additional social workers, seven board certified behavior analysts, three behaviorists, one — out of five — family liaisons, 15 additional special education teachers and five multilingual learner teachers.

Ware said he went on a listening and learning tour and that there are a many brilliant teachers and staff members currently working in the schools.

He added, “What’s also happening is we are forgetting about training, we are forgetting about other de-escalation or professional development opportunities that we need to equip ourselves with. The analogy I use is education has changed, our tools have to change.”

Parents and teachers have also shared concerns about perceptions of safety in certain schools at different community forums.

Ware said that three schools within the district have been cited for high suspension rates and he is currently participating with the state to work on a plan to reduce those numbers.

The presentation also went over a Department of Labor Standards Report after a complaint was sent to them in June 2023 after it was alleged that a student made the environment unsafe to work since September 2022.
It cited teachers felt unsafe, there was no training for behavior and restraint is not effective and not performed. The report also alleges that the district had not performed safety inspections of materials to minimize risk of injury.

DLS visited Szetela Early Childhood Center in January 2024 for an inspection to prevent workplace injuries. DLS issued four citations in the category of “serious” and three of the four were for structural concerns and one was for injuries to a staff member.

Ware said those structural concerns were all addressed like a sprinkler head that needed dressing and a banister to stairs outside the school.

On April 11, the district reported updates to DLS regarding the four citations with photographic proof.
Ware added, “In those citations they have the option to fine you and we didn’t receive any fines. We have not received anything back that we are not in compliance. It is not an ongoing situation.”

There are also multiple conversations going on at Chicopee High School to figure out why teachers may not be reporting behavior and how to address the students who are constantly roaming the hallways, according to Ware.

Ware also said there are three links on the school website to that deal district protocols and procedures including an instructional support team, reporting misconduct and mental health resources.
Ware talked about the reporting misconduct tab.

He said, “This has been recommunicated back to our schools. We are working on the fall and trainings to make sure that principals are recommunicating expectations on how to report misconduct and how a teacher or another staff member gets that information back.”

Ware showed a support system including what the schools currently do, what the school proposes to do and what Ware wants to see more of.

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