Charlottesville High School is canceling classes once again.
The decision comes after a series of violent student brawls on Thursday led to 27 teachers calling out of work on Friday, shutting down the school.
After a closed-door Saturday meeting between the city’s school board and Superintendent Royal Gurley where the parties discussed “school safety” matters, Charlottesville City Schools announced Saturday classes would also be canceled on Monday and Tuesday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Unlike Friday’s cancelation, teachers will be on school grounds Monday adn Tuesday. Instead of instructing students, administrators and staff will be “planning for a ‘reset’ of school policies, procedures, and culture,” according to a Saturday statement from school board Chair James Bryant.
That “reset” will be addressing a high school culture that many say has gotten out of control, with students roaming the halls during class time, instigating fights, disobeying administrators and even letting intruders into the school with the sole purpose of perpetrating violence.
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That’s what happened on Thursday, when a student brought an 18-year-old intruder into the school in order to fight CHS students. Charges have been filed against the 18-year-old, according to school leaders.
“In line with our response to the recent incident involving an unauthorized adult on campus, we will take legal action to emphasize our dedication to maintaining a secure environment at CHS and other buildings of Charlottesville City Schools,” Bryant wrote in Saturday’s statement.
His message outlines some of the steps CHS will be taking to keep students and teachers safe. That will include updated security protocols to put more attention on side entrances such as the one the intruder entered. The school board will also be “seriously exploring weapons detectors,” an option it had also discussed at an Oct. 19 work session.
While it’s not clear exactly what the Monday and Tuesday reset will look like, the goal, according to Bryant, is for staff to “return to our core purpose — offering a safe learning environment in which our students will grow and thrive.”
Staff has struggled to focus on that core purpose this year due to a group of students wreaking havoc. One staffer told The Daily Progress there has been a fight a week since the beginning of the year, often involving a roving band of students who refuse to attend class during the school day.
“Those 30 kids set the tone for the rest of the 1,400 kids in the school,” said the staffer who asked to remain anonymous as to not be reprimanded by the school. That staffer argued the disobedience can be traced to a lack of consequences for breaking rules.
“It’d be like if we had a speed limit that was 35 and everybody was going 60 but nobody ever got pulled over,” the staffer said. “Then they started seeing what else they could do.”
They added that the fights have been “larger and more ferocious” than in previous year, and that some teachers fear for their own safety.
After Friday’s cancellation and Thursday’s brawls — so serious that Charlottesville police were called to help administrators quell the chaos — the Charlottesville teachers’ union asked for classes to also be canceled on Monday and Tuesday in order “to address the climate and the culture at CHS.”
The union also asked for “a plan for students to ensure their safety, positive engagement and address those who cause unsafe conditions” as well as “solutions with substance rather than the appearance of a safe school.”
When Gurley met with local press on Friday afternoon, he said he was “confident” that class would be in session Monday and Tuesday, before the start of Thanksgiving break on Wednesday.
“At this point our teachers have not given me any indication that I have anything to be worried about for Monday,” Gurley told The Daily Progress. “Our teachers are committed to our students. I’m committed to our teachers and students.”
Something between Friday afternoon and during Saturday morning. School spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said the decision to cancel upcoming classes was made “jointly” between Gurley and the school board. Bryant wrote that the board has “expressed confidence and support” for Gurley and CHS staff.
Union president Shannon Gillikin said she was pleased with the decision to cancel class.
“They are listening to the staff and taking the next steps,” she told The Daily Progress in a text message. “We were not at the board meeting but we have been advocating for this.”
Bryant laid out the goals of the two teacher workdays in Saturday’s statement.
“To allow for further review and improvements of safety protocols, better understanding of the expectations and disciplinary procedures within CCS’s Student Rights and Responsibilities, increased clarity around the division’s accountability expectations, and continued attention to staff wellbeing,” Bryant wrote.
He encouraged students, parents and staff to review the school’s code of conduct, which he said is grounded in state disciplinary policy and to which the board strictly adheres.
Additionally, Bryant’s letter alluded to the need of certain students to take responsibility for their own actions.
“The Board asks families to reinforce the expectation that students will attend class on time and will participate in all learning activities; in short, the student will be ready to learn,” he wrote. “In summary, we want every child to succeed, but we can’t accomplish more for any of our students than the children want for themselves.”
Jason Armesto (717) 599-8470
@rmest0 on Twitter