‘Scared To Attend School’
Concerns of student safety were aired out at a Jamestown High School Parent, Teacher, Student Association meeting. The public feedback comes less than a week after a fight among students led to a schoolwide emergency lockdown.
“I’ve heard chatter about many of our students not wanting to attend JHS anymore and many more scared to attend school,” said Joanne Dean, co-treasurer of the PTSA board. “We are better than this and we can be better than this.”
JHS PTSA members held a public comment forum at the end of its monthly meeting in the high school auditorium on Tuesday. Attended by parents, teachers, students and community members, much of the concerns heard at the meeting addressed the Nov. 6 incident where Jamestown police responded to a reported fight at the high school.
Many of those who spoke, some asking not to be identified, detailed second-hand accounts of receiving texts from their children indicating the school was on lockdown. Much of the unverified information of last week’s events shared Tuesday detailed confusion and fear of the lockdown procedure and even teacher heroics of those who attempted to intervene in the altercations.
On Nov. 6, officers assisted school security, and “several juvenile subjects who were actively involved in the fight” were held, police said at the time. Police said surveillance video from the high school would be reviewed.
A heavy police presence was visible outside the school for about an hour after officers were first called. At least two people were seen sitting in the back of a police cruiser.
Multiple students are facing charges, most for disorderly conduct, pending further investigation, police said. Because the students are under the age of 18, the charges will be filed through Chautauqua County Family Court.
Many of the submitted questions and concerns read at the PTSA meeting addressed student accountability and discipline procedures at the high school. While in agreement, Branden Maggio said the disciplinary issues are seen throughout the district and not just in the high school. Maggio is a retired police officer and a parent of children in the district.
“Fights are going to happen with 1,100 kids, it’s how it was handled,” Maggio said. “It was just horrible. It’s not what you would want.”
He added that much of the ongoing issues are due to a lack of “discipline and structure” among students. Invited to the PTSA meeting were Jamestown Public Schools administrators and Board of Education members.
However, none were in attendance as a special board meeting was held the same evening to “discuss student discipline matters.”
Dr. Rosemary Bradley, JHS principal, who was scheduled to attend the PTSA meeting, was requested to attend the special meeting, PTSA members said. Her absence was criticized by many in attendance.
At the special Board of Education meeting in the district administration building Tuesday, board members quickly entered into executive session after opening the meeting. No action was expected to be taken when board members returned from executive session.
When asked if the special meeting was to address last week’s incident, Dr. Bret Apthorpe, JPS superintendent, said it was to address “student discipline in general.”
During the PTSA forum, Dean read a statement from board president Paul Abbott. In the statement, Abbott explained why Bradley was asked to attend the special meeting on the same evening.
A portion of the statement read, “Thank you all for being here tonight and taking an interest in your school. As many of you know, the board of education is meeting this evening for an executive session regarding the incident last Wednesday at JHS.”
Citing open meetings laws, Abbott said Tuesday was the first opportunity the board could hold a meeting to address ongoing matters. Additionally, Abbott detailed the reasoning for asking Bradley to attend the board meeting instead of the PTSA meeting.
While acknowledging the importance of the special meeting, Dean and others remained “disappointed” that no administrators or board members were in attendance.
However, student ex-officio members of the board of education, Meridith Rohlin and Olivia Ruiz, spoke at the PTSA forum. The duo expressed concerns of student safety and discussed their roles on the board.
“This past week was a huge eye opener for me just realizing that I don’t want to talk about the sports that we’re winning or the music concerts, I want to address the situations that we’re having … to make this school a better place,” Rohlin said.
Additionally, Mayor-elect Eddie Sundquist and at least one newly elected city council member Jeff Russell were in attendance, too. Sundquist, who spoke to The Post-Journal following the meeting, said several parents asked him to attend the meeting.
“As mayor (-elect), I’m very concerned that we have good schools to attract people here to city of Jamestown, but also to ensure that we have a good community. Our schools are the pillars of our community,” Sundquist said. “So, I came tonight to hear what the parents had to say and to talk about not only the incident that happened a couple days ago but their general concerns with the school community.”
Sundquist added that when he officially takes office he intends on working with the board of education to ensure that Jamestown has a “solid” public school system.
Eric Tichy contributed to this story.