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Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023
Days after teachers called out to force the superintendent to close Charlottesville High School, we’re learning more about what led to the breakdown.
Students are roaming the halls during class time and refusing to follow teacher instructions. Fights are frequent and intense, sometimes involving multiple students and adults who come on the campus to brawl. The school is regularly either locked down, or in a “stay put, stay tuned” order, which is similar, just without locking and barricading doors.
And it’s taking a toll on students and teachers alike.
Charlottesville High students and teachers at their breaking point with fights, lockdowns and adults trespassing on campus
“I come home and I’m crying because there are just constant fights and lockdowns and ‘stay put, stay tuned’ orders,” a sophomore student at CHS told reporter Tamica Jean-Charles. The student asked that we not publish her name. “It just interrupts everything when in the middle of the day you’re in a ‘stay put, stay tuned’ and you hear that somebody’s getting their head smashed in, in the cafeteria. It’s not a good learning environment.”
Thursday was a particularly rough day, she said. It started during lunch when a group of girls brawled in the bathroom. The sophomore student said she was just yards away when the fight broke out.
The kids around her had a variety of reactions, she said. Some were laughing, others were clearly scared. Nobody knew how to help.
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“And then somebody started talking about guns,” she said. “That was the second it got scary because we were sitting right there, and if somebody had a gun we would be in serious danger.”
That fight was bad enough that school staff called the police to break it up, which they did. But then, while officers were still there, another major fight broke out. This one involved an adult who came to campus looking for a student.
The teachers had had enough. Later that afternoon, they huddled for an emergency faculty meeting where they hatched a plan to force Superintendent Royal Gurley to close the school Friday, said CHS counselor David Wilkerson. By 6 a.m. the next morning, 27 had called out sick, substitute teachers had declined to fill in, and the district sent a short note to parents informing them that school was canceled due to “staffing issues.”
Superintendent cancels classes at CHS Monday and Tuesday in response to violence at the school, announces interim principal
The big question now is: Where do we go from here? City Schools leaders and community members alike are scrambling for solutions.
By Friday afternoon, School Board Chair James Bryant posted a brief plan to the district’s website. Classes at CHS were canceled Monday and Tuesday to allow teachers and district leaders to work out new protocols for handling students who refuse to attend class and are frequently involved in fights. The Charlottesville Police Department plans to patrol the outside of the high school during the school day for the foreseeable future. There’s pressure from some community members to reinstate School Resource Officers (police officers who work within a school).
Monday evening, Charlottesville United for Public Education partnered with a handful of teachers to host a listening session that drew more than 300 people. Many parents and teachers there urged the community to have compassion for the students involved in the fighting. It’s a relatively small number, they say.
Still, something must change, and the teachers urged those present to speak at the upcoming School Board meeting, which is Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at the CHS library, Booker T. Reeves Media Center, at 1400 Melbourne Road.
Regardless of what actions are taken, CHS classes are set to resume Monday. And weary students say they’re not sure how prepared they are to return.
“I’m kind of not ready, just because every time we tell the School Board or admin to do something, they can’t put it into action,” said Molly Miller, a CHS sophomore. “They can’t do it. So, if I go back on Monday, who knows how many fights are going to be at school this time.”
If you have any questions you’d like us to look into, or would like to share your experience at CHS or any other high school in our area, please send us a note at this link and include your contact information.
On that rather somber note, we hope you all have a restful and happy Thanksgiving.
Jessie Higgins, managing editor
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