NEW BRITAIN â€“ The Consolidated School District of New Britain teacherâ€™s union is planning to meet with students involved in two brawls that occurred at New Britain High School in November to discuss the underlying issues that may have caused the violence. The studentsâ€™ parents will also be invited to the meeting.
In attempting to find the root cause of the past violence and prevent further incidents, parents, teachers and some school administrators, are being asked to come together to discuss the matter and ask â€śwhatâ€™s the real issue?â€ť said New Britain Federation of Teachers Local 871 President Sal Escobales.
Students at the high school and Escobales confirmed to The Herald that a fight occurred the morning of Nov. 14 involving several students inside the school. A teacher was hit while trying to break it up.
There was a second fight the next day, this one between several girls in the cafeteria during lunch, students said.
Nine students had expulsion hearings as a result of the brawls. Four of the students were expelled for 180 days. Two of the students received stipulated agreements, which would allow them to return to school if certain requirements are met, said a school district spokesperson.
Two others did not receive an expulsion or stipulated agreement and the remaining student moved out of the district. All students who were brought up for expulsion were suspended following the incidents. Students who had not been involved in a fight prior to the two incidents in November did not go through the expulsion process.
Police records, obtained by The Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that 11 juveniles were arrested and charged with simple assault in connection with the Nov. 14 fight.
Three 18-year-olds were also arrested in connection with the fight and charged with third-degree assault, inciting a riot and second-degree breach of peace, police records indicate. Ten juvenile females were arrested in connection with the next dayâ€™s fight in the cafeteria.
The principal and staff at the high school held a meeting with students involved in the Nov. 14 fight and their parents, according to Escobales. Possible future disciplinary action was brought up at that meeting, he said the parents told him.
SOCIAL MEDIA CONNECTION
The role of social media in the studentsâ€™ violence will likely be discussed at the upcoming meeting, Escobales said. Specifically, an Instagram account, called â€śNBH_finnest_â€ť that was active in the fall and showed several videos of fights among students at New Britain High School will be addressed.
One video on the account obtained by The Herald showed two girls fighting, tumbling on the ground and hitting each other in the head at the entrance to the high school parking lot. Another showed three people fighting inside a hallway of the school, banging into lockers, with other people trying to break up the fight.
â€śItâ€™s like WorldStarHipHop, but with a New Britain focus,â€ť local attorney Adrian Baron told The Herald in November. Baron, who is active in the community, including as president of the Polonia Business Association, said he was told of the account by students who claimed they were afraid to walk the halls at the high school for fear of â€śgetting jumped.â€ť
Superintendent of Schools Nancy Sarra and Escobales told The Herald in January that there have been fewer student fights at the high school since the November incidents. There was a greater emphasis on teachers monitoring the hallways with radios after the fights, but the underlying cause has not been fully addressed, Escobales said.
â€śI just want to help some folks, get all these kids in the room, get us some on-the-ground data,â€ť Escobles said of the planned gathering. â€śIf the environment is supportive enough for them they will open up and give us the information we need.â€ťÂ
The location and exact time of the unionâ€™s meeting are still being finalized, but the goal is to have it this month or early March and sometime in the evening so that parents and students can attend.
Students and families involved in the Nov. 14 fight are expected to attend this first meeting, with those involved in the girls fights expected to attend a second meeting later on in the year, to keep the meetings from becoming overwhelming and discuss possible different factors with the two fights, Escobales said. Iran Nazario, of the Hartford-based Peace Center of Connecticut, which aims to address student violence, is expected to facilitate the conversation.
In response to what was described as a fighting culture at the high school, Principal Damon Pearce said the fighting was not out of control.
â€śFirst, fewer than 4% of the population has engaged in a fight of any kind this year...â€ť Pearce said in an statement emailed to The Herald in December. â€śSecondly, the â€śfight clubâ€ť activity is minimal. Of the 12 or so videos that were on the last Instagram account we had shut down, only two appeared to be staged, slap boxing events. The rest were all (unfortunately) real conflicts that were captured on cell phones, the vast majority of which we know about and responded to in an appropriate manner.â€ť
Acknowledging that facilitating the type of desired conversation in the meeting isnâ€™t her forte, Sarra said she will be attending but at the direction of Escobales.
â€śI think itâ€™s a great thing. Heâ€™s doing it for kids,â€ť she said.
Sarra hosts her own monthly community meetings, she said. She added that the school district has reached out to Nazario and is also in the process of establishing a center at the high school where students can open up about any problems they might be having. It would be based off a similar program at East Hartford High School that Escobales was familiar with.
An after-school program at the middle school level to build a relationship with at-risk kids is also being developed.
â€śOur hypothesis is (the students who fight) want to do it in a controlled environment, because they really donâ€™t want to go deep into this,â€ť Sarra said. â€śThey want themselves to be broken up and to have everyone see how cool they are.â€ť The fighting is a nationwide problem that isnâ€™t unique to New Britain, Sarra said.
â€śOne of our biggest problems is, is we donâ€™t know what the issues are out there,â€ť Sarra, said. â€śWe need to know what those issues are so we can mediate during the day.â€ť
Mayor Erin Stewart told The Herald in December she would like to meet with the superintendent about student violence. The mayorâ€™s spokesperson David Huck said at the end of January a meeting between Stewart and Sarra hasnâ€™t been scheduled yet.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or email@example.com.