High School Principal Ryan Kavanaugh, gave the audience a rundown of what the district is currently doing to address the needs of students, families, faculty and staff.

High School Principal Ryan Kavanaugh gave the audience a rundown of what the district is currently doing to address the needs of students, families, faculty and staff. 

 

In response to the recent TikTok posts of students fighting and outrage from the school community that ensued, Superintendent Margo Martin held a meeting with school parents in the high school cafeteria on Nov. 18 to discuss what the district is currently doing to mitigate further problems and its plan moving forward, as well as gather feedback from those in attendance.

The lunch tables in the cafeteria were almost completely filled with parents and adults that Thursday evening. Martin opened up the meeting, stating that out of the seven years she has worked at the district, this year has seen the most physical conflicts between students.

“I wish I could tell you all the … root causes of that,” Martin said. “I can’t, but I can tell you it’s manifesting itself. Whatever those root causes are, they’re manifesting themselves in physical altercations between students.”

Certainly, the amount of time in isolation during the last school year had some sort of effect on the students and their families.

“What was the impact of our students being isolated from peers, and not socially interacting and socially maturing with their chronological age because they were in quarantine or isolation or we were all in lockdown,” Martin said. “And now they’re trying to play catchup, and come back into an environment where they actually have to engage and work with people again. All the stressors that the pandemic put on individual families  and individual households, and that many of those families and households are still going through [these stressors]. It’s not over for many of our families.”

Fighting is not the only issue the district is facing as multiple parents at the meeting brought up instances of students bullying one another to the point where their child is afraid to attend school as well as inappropriate behavior such as male students sneaking into the girls bathrooms and taking photos of student over a stall with female students doing the same to male students in the boys bathrooms.

Martin eventually turned it over to High School Principal Ryan Kavanaugh, who gave the audience a rundown of what the district is currently doing to address the needs of students, families, faculty and staff, which includes: Use of a Multi-tier Service Support System (MTSS) to address learning gaps, see where students are academically, and prepare them for standardized testing; Holding de-escalation and classroom management training for staff; Meeting with the school social worker, psychologist and guidance counselors to look through which students are in need of help mentally and those who are possibly on the verge of having a mental health crisis; and Partnering with outside agencies such as Tompkins County Mental Health and the Advocacy Center to give extra help to students and families.

Kavanaugh then outlined the ideas the district has for the long term, such as: planning a social media training seminar for parents and workshop on de-escalation and cognitive behavioral therapy; inviting the Groton Police Department to visit the district and speak with students; and establishing an advisory council made up of community members and parents, the latter being one of the more important goals.

“As much as I tell students that I know everything, I don’t know everything,” Kavanaugh said. “I don’t. I need ideas. You folks may know of something that I don’t. We’re going to sit down and we’re going to problem solve.”

He said he hopes to work with the student council more to hear from the students directly.

“Student council and I would meet at least once a month – probably twice a month – so they can tell me what they’re seeing so that I can make actionable plans moving forward,” he said.

In addition, the district will look at possibly shortening lunch periods from 42 minutes to 30 with the intent of eliminating any “unstructured time” students would have after eating their lunches, a period of time when some of the misbehavior between students occurs, according to Kavanaugh.

Some parents at the meeting were not in favor of such a change, saying it is unfair to decrease everyone’s lunch period if it is only a small group of people causing the problems.

“We’ve heard a lot of discussion about COVID and how it’s impacted the kids,” one parent said. “I’m not saying it hasn’t; it has. But I’m sure there’s a lot of parents that would agree that some of the fighting and bullying and stuff that has gone on at Groton has gone on before COVID. … From my understanding, three of the boys bathrooms have already been – or all but one has already been locked. The fights were still going on at that point. So we’re going to change an entire school schedule instead of putting one person by a bathroom and problem areas. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Other parents asked if any of the students involved in the instances of fighting are being held accountable for their actions and receiving discipline like detention or suspension (in- or out-of-school), which Martin said the district has been handing out discipline, and a lot of it. So much so that she said the district is on pace to quadruple the number of suspensions issued this school year.

“We have averaged in past years about 40 suspensions; we’ve already had 40 and we’re only 10 weeks into the year,” she said. “That means we’re going to increase our suspensions at this rate and be at 160.”

A total of 160 suspensions would be more than the total of the last four or five years combined, according to Martin.

Some parents suggested the district look into hiring a resource officer as a potential solution.

“When I was in high school, fights broke out an awful lot, and they brought in a resource officer,” one parent said. “Our school completely changed within six months to a year because that officer took the time to get to know the students who were the most troubled; they took the time to get to know the family; they took the time and gave the administration the time to work with the other students. So the ones that were not misbehaving were not being given discipline like a lot of things that have been discussed tonight.”

Troy Boice, Lieutenant of the Groton Police Department, was in attendance at the meeting and said he, Martin and Kavanaugh met and discussed this idea.

“I did propose an SRO [School Resource Officer] program for next year, but obviously it has to go through budgetary issues and we have to set up a program to find out exactly what we’re looking to do,” Boice said. “An SRO program is more than just having a police officer in school, because a police officer needs to be involved soon. They need to teach the kids what’s good, what they can do, how to better themselves. So that takes some time to come together and put it all together.”

One parent asked Martin why the district has not looked into hiring a resource officer earlier. Martin said it has not yet done so because the proposition may not be liked by all community members.

“There are other people who would be quite reluctant to have a police officer in the school building,” she said. “If you look outside of these four walls and look at some news articles, there’s a debate about this. Not everybody is comfortable with having a law enforcement officer in a school building. So, to be fair to that voice that isn’t being heard, right now I don’t think it’s fair to assume that everybody is okay with having a police officer presence in the building.”

This will most likely not be the last community discussion on this matter as Martin said there is a good chance another meeting like this one will be held in the near future.

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