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Norwalk parents complain about fights in schools, SRO shortage

A school resource officer (SRO) sits outside Norwalk High School after students were dismissed Wednesday.

NORWALK, Conn. — The frightening threats at Norwalk High School have come amidst reports of fights and other problems at the schools.

Some attribute the issues to a reduction in school resource officers. Police say extra work hires are helping to create more of a presence.

“Replacement of the SROs is of the administration’s highest priorities as soon as manpower allows,” Norwalk Police Deputy Chief James Walsh said Wednesday.

Fights are happening every day at Norwalk High School, said a mother whose daughter is a junior there.

Out of concern for her daughter, she asked that her name not be used. She had sent an email to Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella, Norwalk High School Principal Reginald Roberts and Mayor Harry Rilling saying there were six fights Dec. 3, “fights in the hallway, the cafeteria and even a fight in the office among other places.”

While the info came from her daughter, “I was shown videos of one or two of the fights,” she continued. “I’m not sure if they were two different fights or two videos of the same fight, but regardless I find this absolutely pathetic!  My daughter has to worry when she is innocently walking through the hallway between classes that she might encounter a fight or when she is at lunch in the cafeteria she has to worry that she may encounter a fight??  Then to top off Friday, she heard (hearsay) there were two fights which would have been before the lockdown, if this is true.”

She initially said she got no reply from Estrella, Roberts or Rilling, but on Thursday reported, “I did receive a response yesterday from {Board of Education Chairman} Colin Hosten who said the superintendent has convened a School Safety Task Force made up of NPS Staff, board members, parents and community advocates.  Although I don’t have confirmation of exactly how many fights there have been recently because my child was only witness to one, hopefully they’ll get a handle on it.”

NancyOnNorwalk sent an email Monday to Estrella, Rilling, NPS Chief of Staff and Communications Brenda Wilcox Williams and Hosten asking about her comments and got no reply. Hosten didn’t reply to a Thursday evening email; on Friday, the mother sent NoN his statement to her:

“This is indeed a frustrating and uncertain time for our students and families, and it is almost certainly bubbling up into some of the aggressive behaviors we have been seeing. No student should feel unsafe in any of our learning environments. With the Board’s approval, the Superintendent, copied here, has been exploring every option to increase the visible presence of security in our schools, and NPD assures us that they share the same priority. The Superintendent has also convened a School Safety and Security Task Force, made up of NPS staff, board members, parents, and community advocates to help identify and implement the best policies and procedures to keep our schools safe. We continue to be inspired by the resolve and dedication of our students in very unprecedented times. Despite the negative actions of a few, the vast majority, like your daughter, remain committed to excellence in and out of the classroom, and we are extremely proud of them.”

 

‘Not just in Norwalk’

A mother commenting Tuesday on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, said, it’s not just fights, a bomb scare and three lockdowns. It’s “consistent fire drills from kids pulling the alarm or smoking in bathroom.” The Monday lockdown was followed by fights.

Another parent countered, “A parent friend of mine just shared that this exact stuff (fights, threats/hoaxes/gun violence or threat thereof) is happening two days in a row in a New York City school. This isn’t the fault of administration in Norwalk. They’re doing the best they can with a crazy situation.”

Education Week indicates this may be a national trend. While there’s no data available yet for school violence in 2021, anecdotally, “teachers, principals, and educators now say they are seeing an increase that has roughly paralleled the return of most students to in-person schooling.”

The article states, “Criminologists note that the nation is in the grip of a general spike of violence probably due to the pandemic and social unrest accompanying the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Their best guess is that those trends are trickling inexorably, and tragically, down to K-12 students.”

The Washington Post also reports, “teachers and school administrators across the country say they are seeing a rise in everything from minor misbehaviors to fighting in the hallways.”

 

Possible remedies?

Norwalk parents suggest that remote learning might be an option.

“Since we had it in place for COVID, I’d think it would be just as easy to offer it again now. What these kids are experiencing is ridiculous,” one said on the Facebook page. “…These kids do not feel safe.  They are on edge, parents are on edge.  At the very least re-install metal detectors and SROs ASAP.  Do something to make these kids feel like people actually care.”

“Some of these SROs are now doing 6 to 8 schools. Not okay,” Nora King said to NancyOnNorwalk. “Hence why we have shooting scares, bomb scares, kids having drug overdoses at the school, fist fights especially at Norwalk High School and kids bringing vodka to school in a water bottle and passing it around. Schools are supposed to educate our kids on reading, math, science etc. Now it is a bunch of social workers teaching nothing and teachers more worried about bombs and behavioral issues than teaching because we have no police presence or the philosophy that there are consequences for your actions. NPS has lost sight of that with their restorative justice way of thinking. How is that working out for our kids? It isn’t.”

The Norwalk Police Department went from eight SROs to three due to manpower issues, according to Norwalk Police Deputy Chief James Walsh. The staffing dip is attributed to retirements and resignations, long term injuries or illnesses.

The department has lost 12 officers this year, said Lt. David O’Connor, police union president, adding that four officers left due to disciplinary issues. With 181 officers authorized, the department was down to 166 sworn officers, Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said in November. Walsh said it’s still 166, but six recruits are set to enter the police academy in January.

However, the three SROs are “supplemented by extra work hires at both high schools on a daily basis making the total five officers,” Walsh said Wednesday.

The SROs have been investigating and documenting the fights, Walsh said.

Mayor Harry Rilling mentioned metal detectors Monday, during a Democratic Town Committee meeting.

“Metal detectors have limited efficacy, but it’s very challenging because at Norwalk High School, you have 1700 students, and to stop 1700 students and have them lining up at the door to verify that there’s nothing metallic that they have, or that they’re not carrying a weapon, is very, very challenging. And it’ll take a long time to get the students into school,” Rilling said.

“I know a lot of people talk about how we can secure the schools,” Rilling said. “We’ve been working on securities evaluations for virtually every school, and how we can have what they call like ‘an entry zone’ where you can get in the first door, but you can’t get in the second door. That kind of thing…. We’ve done evaluations on most, if not all of the schools to determine what kind of security measures we can put in place to make sure that the schools are safe.”

Updated at 1:48 p.m. to include more information.

14 comments

M Murray December 10, 2021 at 6:27 am

Sen. Chris Murphy, along with three other lawmakers, introduced a bill that would pave the way to remove school resource officers and replace them with a counseling system.

“Tens of thousands of kids are arrested at school every single year and a disproportionate number of these students are Black and latino,” Murphy said.
https://www.wfsb.com/news/sen-murphy-helps-introduce-legislation-to-remove-officers-from-schools/article_13d75cba-d208-11ea-812f-9ba0f4d3b35a.html#:~:text=%28WFSB%29%20%E2%80%93%20A%20push%20at%20the%20federal%20level,officers%20and%20replace%20them%20with%20a%20counseling%20system

David Osler December 10, 2021 at 8:11 am

I don’t understand why schools do not plan for fights particularly between males teenage males will fight effectively under any circumstances why won’t they formalize it they don’t give the kids some boxing gear have it monitored and let them go at it if they want to and if not they have time for their blood to cool down as far as patrolling our schools why does it have to be police there’s plenty of ex-military around as well as private security both are cheaper and probably better suited for that type of environment we don’t need our kids being arrested over nothing or things that can be dealt with administratively but we do need our kids to be safe

Responsibility and Solutions December 10, 2021 at 8:53 am

I completely agree that the district needs a full complement of SROs, whose presence does matter, but no thinking person can expect an extra work hire to be the near equivalent of an SRO because the extra work hires are different police officers everyday, while SROs are the same people, who have relationships with the students and staff. Apples and oranges are both kinds of fruit, but no one would confuse one for the other.

This said, student discipline isn’t a police function, whether SRO or regular NPD; it is the primary responsibility of the NHS school administrators, who are exceptionally well compensated. I would bet that NHS and P-TECH combined have at least 175 administrators, teachers, support staff, paraeducators and security guards spread throughout that facility. It’s the NHS administration’s responsibility to devise a plan for securing that school, with the support of all of that staff, all of whom share the responsibility for providing a safe learning environment. There is not much learning if students are fearful.

A return to remote learning is an idea that doesn’t deserve consideration. Covid’s many disruptions may be part of the reason for the unrest, but it isn’t an excuse for inaction.

John O'Neill December 10, 2021 at 9:15 am

Anyone who is surprised by any of this has not been paying attention. Here is what teachers have to deal with in current environment:

Kids running full speed thru the hallways and knocking people over
Destroying Bathrooms
Disrespect to Teachers — I guess cursing at teachers is considered okay these days
Cell Phones, Cell Phone, Cell Phones
Select Students NOT wearing masks
Students talking in class constantly with little or no accountability
Inappropriate Behavior on Busses
Minimum Grades for doing absolutely nothing – Yes, you read that right
Fire Alarm recess once or twice per week
DeFacto Racial quotas on discipline

Fighting is just the tip of the iceberg — Norwalk students have grown accustomed to little accountability for their actions, so what does this administration expect? The above behaviors are generally accepted as custom for whatever reason. It makes no sense to me, but then again I’m a believer in Common Sense. I would further argue the students most effected by these policies are the kids our wokesters claim to be supporting the most. Where is the outrage from their leaders? I just hear crickets. I guess demanding discipline, respect and accountability is not a politically popular theme in certain circles. What about the teachers? It seems like there Union leaders have let them down. Shouldn’t they demand a more civil work environment??

Note to NPS Central: It’s still early in the school year. Unless “REAL” changes are made this will only get worse.

Thomas Belmont December 10, 2021 at 9:33 am

The success of infiltrating CRT in school curricula is demonstrated in conflict resulting in violence. Destroy the country from within, the Marxist MO. They are corrupting the youth and turning them against each other, against their country, its culture, its history, its faith, its promise to be a more perfect Union.

Tysen Canevari December 10, 2021 at 1:03 pm

I saw 4 cops on a dirt job today on Silvermine Ave along side flagmen. Just pay the cops OT to work at the schools as SRO’s to better utilize their talents. It only makes sense. It seems the flagmen on West Rocks road the last two weeks have handled it ok without police officers. Just saying

Maria December 10, 2021 at 1:51 pm

I was told today in the exact words today by nhs principal this : There are no videos of 5 fights in a day (or 4 or 3) because they simply haven’t happened; it is true, however, that we’ve had a small number of students this year who’ve been involved in a number of altercations. We continue to work with each student individually (and collectively as it’s been necessary) to address the root causes while also following our Code of Conduct.

Which is a lie

Nora King December 10, 2021 at 3:13 pm

David – the fights are mostly between girls not the boys. Full on fist fights. NPS is pushing parents out of the classroom, not letting teachers teach but shoving their curriculum down their throats and spending State money on what they want to without any accountability. The state gave them a blank check. Perhaps they need to fund more SROs.

Victor Budnik December 10, 2021 at 4:48 pm

It all starts at home! society is loosing its family values! too many out of wedlock births!too many single parents!how can you have responsible children when the parents are not responsible themselves?? #2 SOCIAL MEDIA!!

Steve December 11, 2021 at 7:44 am

Yup – school has had to deal with a pandemic, 3 hoax terrorist attacks and a bunch of people here, some of which I know neither work at the school nor have children there – so you wonder where they get their facts- light into the NPS. Pretty sure their next complaint is gonna be- “and you’re ugly too”. Maybe A Nancy on norwalk investigation on where they get their facts? My guess is from each other

Dennis A. Horvath December 11, 2021 at 3:28 pm

Taxpayers have read about school lawsuits, firings, racial slurs, the school opening debacle, damaged property, phone threats, fights, drinking, etc. that cost taxpayers additional millions of dollars. Parents of assaulted children should not let the school administration resolve these assaults from within, but dial 911, have the perpetrator arrested immediately and then have their children evaluated at the hospital to document the injuries. No amount of task forces with results implemented months later will help. I expect that the results will be to hire an expensive consultant to make recommendations. The school superintendent, BOE, mayor and common council are responsible for this mess. Doesn’t one or all of them have the guts to say “enough” and fix it immediately because Norwalk’s reputation is at stake? If some people are thinking of running for higher office they had better clean up these problems fast. Perhaps a few people should resign. Norwalk’s slogan is The Sound of Connecticut. I pray that it soon won’t be the sound of gun fire, sirens and crying

Jane December 11, 2021 at 10:05 pm

The bottom line is that the Central Office and Board of Education members are pushing this liberal agenda of no consequences for bad student behavior in the Norwalk Public Schools. Many parents are not aware of the lack of support the teachers are getting due to the pandemic. Parents are being kept out of the buildings and left in the dark. Teachers are not allowed to discipline the kids anymore for bad behavior. Teachers hands are tied and have no power to act. Everything is being swept under the rug and the motto for all of the Norwalk Public schools is to be nice and sweet to the kids and everything will go away and be rosy. The public school system is in shambles because of this mentality. Our kids and teachers are suffering because those from the top down are only interested in making money, high test scores on paper, and looking good for the state. Why isn’t the word respect being pushed more in the Public schools? Until Parents realize these things the Norwalk Public schools is going to continue to deteriorate. Cut the big salaries of the Central Office individuals, get a new Board of Education filled with teachers who know what needs to be done, hire and support more Police, security personnel, Aids and Educators, and then you will see a return to normal in the Norwalk Public Schools.

John O'Neill December 12, 2021 at 9:58 am

@Jane – That’s a very intelligent assessment of the situation. My guess would be to expect those standardized test scores to drop.

john flynn December 12, 2021 at 10:48 am

There were 31 fights at Brian McMahon in 2019. I have video from 2 girls that are track stars and softball players. There were afraid to say anything about the gang of girls that would pull your hair out. Look at the books in the library. Lawn Boy? Read page 36. Senator murphy along with Pressley want to remove all Police from Schools and state that police are targeting students. Gang members brought to CT by Senate Majority leader BOB DUFF> paying illegals to break and enter into The USA.

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