Faculty and staff from Chicopee Public Schools attend the School Committee meeting on May 15 to express their concerns.
Reminder Publishing screen capture by Tyler Garnet

CHICOPEE — The School Committee meeting on May 15 was standing room only as 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 where students were verbally and even physically abusive towards teachers.

Chicopee Comprehensive High School English teacher Michele Foley read a statement from a teacher who was verbally assaulted and punched in the face in an incident on May 14.

She read, “As both a teacher and alum of Chicopee Public Schools, it saddens me greatly to say that my perspective of our district has been severely tainted after an incident yesterday where I was assaulted by a student. For 12 years as a student and six years as a teacher, I had truly never felt unsafe in our district trusting that those in control were safeguarding both students and staff against external threats.”

The anonymous teacher added that he now must now look at his students as people who may affect his safety and that the culture of the school has changed over the past few years with the increase of insubordination.

He also noted that anywhere from five to 20 students are spotted in the halls skipping class during the day.
He was struck twice in the head by a student after he was trying to get the student to go to class instead of roaming the halls and skipping class and mentioned being pushed down, losing his glasses and even staggered, stunned and saw stars for a few moments.

“The disrespect and indifference towards staff members in the district has crushed the morale of teachers in our building. At Chicopee High School, in the past two years I have watched multiple new and veteran teachers decide to transfer to the other high school in our city, leave the district or abandoned education altogether because of the way they were treated by our students,” Foley continued reading.

Chicopee Comprehensive High School English Teacher Gina Potoski-Dahl reiterated the same points Foley mentioned and gave everyone a look into classrooms today and advised not to get rid of certain vice principal positions in the budget.

Potoski-Dahl said, “Classroom discipline is more challenging than ever, arguing with teachers is common and more serious distribution has increased. Insults, threats and hostile comments have also increased significantly since [the coronavirus pandemic] and requires substantial involvement from administration. The additional vice principal jobs at the high school provide crucial disciplinary support that teachers need.”

Multiple teachers who signed up to speak yielded their time to Laura Demakis who is president of Chicopee Education Association as well as a teacher in the district.

She announced that she was stepping down as president and explained her reasoning.

“I am here tonight as well as many CEA members to inform you, to ask you for answers and to ask you to take action. I’m taking an early retirement from education stepping down as CEA president. I cannot be part of an educational system that is normalizing a threatening, degrading, violent workplace for educators and students. There is so much more of putting out fires than education going on,” Demakis said.

Demakis continued to read multiple vulgar complaints she received from staff that students were saying to them.

She added, “These are just some of the lovely language we are getting from students. Being punched, kicked, threatened, bit, spit at, hit with a clip board, hit with a chair, pushed to the ground are just some of the types of assaults occurring.”

Demakis said she has been asking for help for years and that it is taking too long or has not been effective enough.

There was also a Department of Labor Services report done at Chicopee Public Schools that stated, “School staff from teachers to paraprofessionals sustained several serious injuries such as rotator cuff, whiplash, popped blood vessels and injury to back and neck. The school did not provide support when a student profiled change by exhibiting dysregulated behavior for months.”

Four or five teachers continued to express similar concerns to the previous speakers and explained they were there to look for something to change within the schools or else more teachers may leave, and others may not want to get hired in Chicopee.

The School Committee or Superintendent Marcus Ware did not respond back 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. School Committee member Donald Lamothe, who was running the meeting, said the committee would not be responding at the meeting.

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