Charlottesville High School resumes as community looks for ways to stem violence • Charlottesville Tomorrow | #schoolsaftey

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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023

Monday morning, a crowd of cheering teachers, administrators and volunteers gathered at the entrance of Charlottesville High School to welcome students back to class.

It was the students’ first day back since teachers called out “sick” and forced the superintendent to close the school Friday, Nov. 17. The extreme move was in response to rising fighting, violence and student misconduct. CHS remained closed through the Thanksgiving vacation for what administrators called “a hard reset,” during which officials say staff discussed new ways of handling the increasingly violent fights and student misconduct.

But Monday morning, staff, volunteers and students were focused on setting a positive mood.

“This was an opportunity for us to put out an all-call for people to come out and be supportive,” said Wes Bellamy, who organized the welcome with fellow community member Charles Lewis. “No matter where you’re from, no matter who you are, let’s come out here and show our faculty and our students that we love them, that we value them and that we support them.”

A man reaches out to high five an adolescent boy as he walks toward a brick building. Multiple people surround the two, all are smiling, clapping or high fiving.
Community member Wes Bellamy joins dozens of City Schools personnel and community volunteers to welcome Charlottesville High School students back to school Monday Nov. 28, 2023.

Shows of support like this are just part of the solution, though, Bellamy said.

School officials in Charlottesville must also grapple with the reality that the high school might be becoming a more violent place. The students we spoke with say that fights happen weekly, if not more often. Though most are quickly resolved without injury, there have been a few major brawls involving multiple people.

In October, one such fight broke out in the library. (We’re trying to learn more about this fight. If you experienced it, or know someone who did, please send us a message at this link.)

Then, on Thursday Nov. 16, another multi-person fight broke out in a girls’ bathroom.

“You can hear the admin yelling,” said a student who was eating lunch nearby when the fight broke out. She asked us not to use her name. “People would come out from watching the fight and would be, like, reporting to us and saying like, ‘Oh, some girl just smashed her head into a wall and is beating her up.’”

Someone called the police to break up the fight. While officers were there, a second fight broke out in a different part of the school. This one involved an 18-year-old, not a student, who came onto campus looking for someone, police said.

CHS Counselor David Wilkerson said this is the highest volume of fights he’s seen in his nearly 10-year career.

A boy stands at a microphone gesturing with his hands. Behind him is an auditorium filled with people.
Credit: Tristan Williams/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Charlottesville High students and teachers at their breaking point with fights, lockdowns and adults trespassing on campus

The school district’s own data appears to back up what teachers and students are saying. It lags more than a year behind, but the most recent data between the fall of 2020 and the fall 2021 show that “student behavior incidents” rose some 250%, “safety incidents” rose by 150%, and the number of times staff requested help doubled.

What’s more, other school districts around the country are reporting similar issues. In November 2021, Education Week published a report about the mounting anecdotal evidence that newly reopened schools were more violent than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

Though data is still quite limited because districts don’t use the same methodology to track violent incidents, a study from the Institute of Education Sciences found that physical attacks or fights between students in the 2021-2022 school year were up across the country by about 38%. And general rowdiness and student disruption were up about 60%. You can dig into the data yourself here.

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From the community

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Individual school districts across the country have told media that fights and assaults are rising. This article in the Wall Street Journal focuses on teachers being assaulted by students. And this article from the Associated Press hones in on the experiences in a San Francisco middle school.

The questions these communities face are the same as the ones facing Charlottesville: Why is this happening? And how do we fix it?

Another community conversation is in the works to address concerns about fighting at Charlottesville High School

City Schools is hosting a listening session this Thursday at 6 p.m. to dig into these questions. Hit this link to learn how to attend.

We’re also looking to speak with any students, teachers or parents at City Schools or other central Virginia districts about their experiences at school. If you’d like to share, please send us a note at this link with a good way to reach you.

I hope you all had a restful holiday weekend! See you Friday,

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

P.S. We’re hiring: Cover big stories in local democracy as a reporter with Charlottesville Tomorrow!

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