Disruptions at Fisher Hill School concerns parents, teachers 

  • Fisher Hill School

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 11/21/2018 10:59:58 PM
Modified: 11/21/2018 11:00:03 PM

ORANGE — Kindergartners and first-graders stabbing others with pencils, trashing classrooms and threatening teachers were among the many concerns raised at Monday’s Orange School Committee meeting.

About 30 people showed up for the public comments section of the meeting, which was also attended by Superintendent Tari Thomas. For 90 minutes, parents and teachers alike detailed an atmosphere of out-of-control pupils who have become violent and caused frequent “evacuations” of students from their first-grade and kindergarten classrooms at Fisher Hill Elementary School.

“My daughter is petrified,” said Tonia Goguen, the mother of a kindergartner at the school.

Goguen said she has let her child stay home from school to avoid violent classmates, and that she will continue to do so if the problems continue. According to Goguen, her daughter’s classroom was evacuated on Monday due to an unruly student.

“My daughter will not be coming to school until you get this under control,” Goguen said, adding that her daughter has been acting out at home, and sees negative behavior like students stabbing others with pencils while in class. Goguen said she would like troublemaking children removed from the class rather than the other students.

“My classroom is one of the ones that has high evacuations,” said first grade teacher Kelly Therrien.

“It’s hard, it’s very hard,” said Therrien, adding that she has taken it “very personally” when told by parents they want to remove their children from her class. “Trust me, we’re trying.”

Therrien said she has rearranged her classroom for safety purposes and is still picking up after a student trashed the room. She said her class was evacuated Monday for more than an hour.

“As a teacher, my job is going to meet their needs,” Therrien said. “I don’t know what to do.”

Tarrah Hart, a Title I paraprofessional at the school, said the faculty and staff is becoming frightened of the out-of-control students.

“We’re scared,” Hart said. “We’re scared for our students, we’re scared for our colleagues, we’re scared for ourselves.”

Hart said students have become out of control and have said things like, “‘Hey, Mrs. Hart. You know I can get you fired.’”

Preschool teacher Jackie Graziano said cutting the number of kindergarten classes at Fisher Hill from four to three this year as part of district-wide budget cuts increased the number of students in the classes, making it more difficult for teachers to control students who act out.

“We all warned you as parents and teachers (about the cuts),” Graziano said.

Thomas said she’s decided to add another kindergarten class, bringing the total to four, but did not say whether the reason was because of the disruptions. The added section will be paid for with $50,000 in rural aid money from the state that the school learned on Oct. 17 it would be receiving.

“I know that parents have some real concerns,” said Thomas, admitting there have been “frequent evacuations” of classrooms to other areas of the school to keep children away from other potentially dangerous students. Thomas said the evacuations have been on “a daily basis” at times. No number of evacuations was given, but a few parents claimed their have been more than 10.

Thomas also was optimistic things would get under control.

“The staff has really been remarkable,” Thomas said. “It’s a handful of students that we’re really dealing with.”

Several also talked about a lack of communication between school officials and parents. Principal Maureen Donelan and others — though it is not clear who or how many — are not at the school while the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families investigates the school.

“Unfortunately, newspapers gave us more information than you did,” said parent Amanda Thompson.

No details about why the principal is gone or what is being investigated have been released. Part of the department’s mission is keeping children safe from abuse and neglect. While many understood those details are confidential personnel matters, they still expressed frustration about hearing of evacuations from their kindergartners.

School Committee Chairwoman Stephanie Conrod said the School Committee would have a follow-up meeting after hearing from parents and teachers. Because the complaints were part of the public comments section and not on the agenda, the School Committee did not deliberate on what should be done. However, a following meeting will likely deal with evacuation policies and student safety, and would be scheduled within two weeks.

“We’re not unfeeling people,” Conrod said, adding that being on the School Committee is “not an easy job.”

Conrod also said that the School Committee’s powers are very limited, and encouraged parents to lobby for more state funding for schools.

“It’s unfortunate that the growth in this town is not keeping up with the cost of education,” Conrod said, calling the meeting “productive and enlightening.”

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