FRAMINGHAM — Concerns about an outbreak in violence in Framingham Public Schools have reached the City Council, with several councilors expressing frustration about it during their meeting on Jan. 30.
“I’ve been getting more calls from parents of students in the schools about their fear of violence,” said District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon said. “I don’t normally get calls like that.”
Superintendent of Schools Robert Tremblay is scheduled to appear before the council at its next meeting on Tuesday.
Cannon referenced a fight that occurred Jan. 23 at Framingham High School that resulted in two students being arrested. He said he received a long email from Tremblay regarding the incident, but did not think it sent a strong enough message about addressing violent acts in Framingham Public Schools.
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“What the email didn’t say was that violence won’t be tolerated in our schools, period,” Cannon said. “I’ve never, in the history of my involvement in the community, heard from parents that their kids are afraid to go to school because of violence.
“That’s really concerning to me.”
“We do get those calls,” he said. “I got videos. My daughter just recently graduated there — when you have people telling you, thank God your kid is out of the high school — you don’t know how bad it is, that isn’t a good feeling. They are not good. The calls over the past two weeks have just been overwhelming. As a father, as a parent of a former student, it’s not good. It’s been a bad week.”
Framingham Public Schools disciplined 77 students last year for ‘physical attacks’
According to discipline statistics from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Framingham Public Schools formally disciplined 77 students for acts classified as “physical attacks” during the 2022-23 school year. That was down from the previous school year, when 129 students were disciplined.
Over the last six school years, the district has averaged 100 students being disciplined for physical violence per year. The 2020-21 school year is not included, as most students were learning from home due to the pandemic.
In 2022-23, Framingham had the state’s 12th largest school district but ranked 21st in the number of students disciplined for physical attacks. The year prior, Framingham had the 14th most students disciplined for physical attacks.
Tremblay told the Daily News that he’s arranging data from this school year to present to the council. He said the notion that students are engaging in physical violence and not being adequately punished is incorrect.
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“We are seeing the number of students who are being suspended, and our arrest numbers, are up,” Tremblay said. “That isn’t something we are proud of, these are data points that are not good. It indicates either behaviors are worse than before, or we are taking more assertive action. We want to be able to have restorative discussions with students, but that doesn’t mean that if a student pushes a teacher, there isn’t any repercussions for that. The student might have an in-school suspension, an out-of-school suspension, or something more.”
Tremblay said that while there are more fights in school, there are a number of reasons that the discussion point is being raised more frequently. He suggested students may identify school as a “safer” place to fight, knowing conflicts are broken up sooner if they occur at school.
“Fights, fighting in school, while I don’t condone it, is not new behavior,” Tremblay said. “I think we are seeing more fights come into schools, as opposed to outside of schools, because I think the idea is they can get broken up sooner. The environment has also changed where if a fight breaks out, students swarm the area to take videos, which makes it more difficult for administrators to break up the fight. That also can sensationalize what is happening.”
State law requires several steps before students can be issued suspensions
In November 2022, the state passed a law requiring school districts to go through additional disciplinary steps before resorting to suspensions. The law was written with the aim of keeping students in a formal learning environment, as opposed to allowing a day off to those who wouldn’t want to be at school anyway.
Tremblay said going to public school is a public right, and when parents send emails suggesting a student should be expelled from the school system, they are in fact requesting that a right be taken from a student.
“I think for parents, it is coming from a place where they want their child to be safe,” he said. “As a parent of three, I completely understand. At the same time, other children have a right to be there — but they don’t have a right to be violent at school.”
District 5 City Councilor Noval Alexander, who is an educator in Belmont, said during the Jan. 30 meeting that increased school violence is not unique to Framingham.
“It’s all over, it’s even in my district at the middle school I work at,” Alexander said. “Conflict resolution is an issue. Our children are pent up with a lot of anxiety and anger and things that are from outside the home, social media and its influence on our society and on them is a major consequence. I know in my school, we talk about these issues with our kids and try to come to a resolution before things of this nature happen. But there isn’t an easy fix.”
Alexander said something he has seen work in other districts is a student-led justice council.
“It’s something I hope I can talk about to the superintendent,” he said. “I’ve seen it in other jurisdictions and states, and to let the students kind of have their own court, so to speak. I don’t know if that is the right approach, or the legal aspects of it, but it’s an outside-of-the-box idea.”