Brockton teachers describe physical, verbal abuse by students

BROCKTON — More than a dozen Brockton Public Schools teachers and staff members expressed to state legislators Thursday night that many of the issues Brockton High School is facing — including students verbally and physically assaulting teachers, causing constant violent fights, swearing, vaping, smoking, stealing, breaking school property and leaving the building freely — are also rocking elementary and middle schools across the district.

Multiple employees from various BPS elementary schools and middle schools spoke at a public meeting on Feb. 15 regarding Massachusetts General Law Sec. 84 C. 37H – 3/4: a recent student discipline law nicknamed “Chapter 222” that limits schools’ ability to use out-of-school suspension.

Four state government officials who represent Brockton — Rep. Gerard Cassidy, Rep. Michelle DuBois, Rep. Rita Mendes and Sen. Michael Brady — attended the meeting, where they heard 15 BPS teachers and staff discuss the behavior they’ve seen in schools across Brockton.

“A lot of Brockton teachers are feeling hopeless,” said Athena Deltano, a special education teacher at Arnone Elementary School who said she recently was bitten by a student not in her class.

“I think we’re all looking for a life raft right now.”

BPS teachers have spoken at school committee meetings since October about the violent fights, physical attacks and constant disrespect toward teachers of roughly 300 to 700 students at Brockton High. Thursday’s meeting showed the problems are engulfing schools at every grade level.

“We are not able to do our jobs safely,” Deltano said. “We’re literally, all of us, begging you.”

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Adriana Alicea, a counselor at Arnone Elementary, said the same student who bit Deltano also kicked Alicea earlier in the school year. She said the Arnone School is “a mini BHS.”

“I want to see change happen,” Alicea said at the meeting Thursday night. “We need physical, tangible change by the end of the school year.”

Alicea said many BPS staff are considering leaving the district if these issues aren’t fixed by the end of the 2023-24 school year.

Allison Russell, a first-year music teacher at West Middle School where Thursday’s meeting was held, said when she gave her music students drumsticks, they threw them at the back of her legs so hard that she was bruised. She said she can’t give her students ukuleles because they’ll likely break them.

“I’m watching my job turn into babysitting instead of teaching,” Russell said. “This does not start in high school.”

At Downey Elementary School, fifth grade teacher Gitana Snow said she’s heard students swearing, yelling and threatening to harm each other. She said she’s seen students throw chairs, punch walls, steal teacher’s items and constantly disrespect staff.

“Administration has been as helpful as possible, but as we know their hands are tied,” Snow said.

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Is Chapter 222 harming schools?

The state law “Chapter 222” sets restrictions on how principals and superintendents can respond to incidents that occur within the school buildings, with the aim to keep students in school so they can continue learning.

Before a student can be suspended outside of school, administrators must exhaust all “alternative remedies” and keep them inside the school building, according to the law. These remedies can include mediation, conflict resolution, restorative justice and collaborative problem solving.

“[It] was changed in November of 2022 as part of a broader piece of legislation in the state to address the mental health needs of children,” said Paige Tobin, an attorney for Murphy, Lamere & Murphy, the law firm that represents Brockton Public Schools.

“Students were being suspended out of school more than they should be,” Tobin said. “Particularly because of the aftermath of COVID, it was important to try to keep students in school as much as possible.”

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But according to Karen Guzman, a math teacher a Brockton Virtual Learning Academy who used to teach in BHS, when the law was first enacted, BHS administrators told teachers they couldn’t write behavior referrals anymore, and if students were misbehaving teachers “were told to suck it up.”

“Chapter 222, it took away the rights of all the other kids that want to learn,” Guzman said to applause from the crowd of over 50 teachers. “We need to revamp what Chapter 222 has done to us.”

Ninth grade BHS teacher Eleri Merrikin said that in a class of 30 students, five or six will have “extreme behavior problems” and misbehave in class every day all semester long.

“When are we going to wake up and realize suspension is a tool,” Merikin. “Schools are reeling out of control and it’s making it bad for everyone.”


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