PT school district sees outbreak of violent acts between students

Posted 10/21/21

Multiple fights between students in Port Townsend schools have prompted parents to fear for the safety of their children as administrators scramble for solutions.

The Port Townsend School District …

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PT school district sees outbreak of violent acts between students


Multiple fights between students in Port Townsend schools have prompted parents to fear for the safety of their children as administrators scramble for solutions.

The Port Townsend School District has noted 19 discipline incidents so far in the school year, with nine students suspended as multiple acts of violence have been reported between teens, mostly on school grounds.

Many of the recent outbursts have occurred in common areas at Port Townsend High School, with students recording and sharing the incidents on social media.

One video, shared to The Leader by a parent, captured a female student assaulting another female teen in front of the high school, forcing her to the ground and repeatedly striking her with her fists. In the same video, an administrator stepped in to break up the fight, but was pushed away by another student as the fight continued.

Multiple videos documenting incidents have been shared online, with one showing a student repeatedly punching another student on a school bus, and another with three teens assaulting a student on the high school campus.

The recent increase in altercations is abnormal for the school district, considering the last reported fight on the campus was a decade before the recent outbreak.

Violent occurrences have increased drastically across the U.S. as of late. With many students returning to classrooms after a year away due to the coronavirus pandemic, re-socializing students has been a major challenge not only for the Port Townsend School District, but for school districts nationwide.

While the school district has suspended students involved in fights and reached out to student leaders to find potential solutions, many parents have voiced concerns for their children’s safety via meetings and emails with school officials.

Because of privacy laws, the school district’s administration is unable to share the full extent of current disciplinary measurements and suspensions with parents, leading to a rift with parents who want to know what is being done with students instigating fights.

Parents, School at odds

In a recent email chain between parents and administrators, parents directed their concerns toward Carrie Ehrhardt, the high school principal, with one parent saying, “The district failed to keep our children safe while in their care and that falls directly on the administration. The point of a school environment is for students to feel safe and supported while learning, and when this isn’t happening, something must change.”

School and district officials have responded to parents, assuring that safety solutions and preventative measures are being discussed and put in place.

“I too am very disturbed by the videos that have emerged from last week. As your superintendent, I feel deeply saddened by what students witnessed and take responsibility for ensuring that you feel safe sending your students to school,” Superintendent Linda Rosenbury said in an email to parents.

“This type of behavior has not been the norm at Port Townsend High School and we will not allow it to become so,” she added.

While administrators must respect the privacy of their students while remaining open with parents, concerns remain for parents, some who still feel the district isn’t doing enough to tamp down student-against-student confrontations.

Worries about student safety have risen to the school board level.

During a school board meeting earlier this month, staff and administrators discussed the rise of violence and solutions to prevent future fights or acts of aggression.

“In many ways, this wasn’t a failure of response, this was a failure of knowing how to communicate our response to the community while respecting the privacy of the students involved,” Rosenbury said.

“We cannot share personal information about a student’s consequence, so they may think nothing happened to this student,” she explained. “So we are working on how do we make sure that we do show that we’re talking things seriously, and they feel like there’s resolution.

Police Solutions

Ehrhardt, the principal at Port Townsend High, discussed using funds to bring the school’s former school resource officer, Troy Surber, back in a part-time capacity.

Serber would act as a “kind of a liaison for us in helping to support the students,” she said.

“He is going to teach some classes around social media which is another area that we’re seeing infiltrate some of the discipline challenges that we’ve had,” Ehrhardt said. “A lot of kids have felt isolated for the last 12 to 16 months, so they’ve been using a lot of technology to communicate. So there’s been some hurt that’s been bottled up.”

“We’re going to continue to work with the police department to see what they can provide us, especially if things heat up again,” Rosenbury said. “When families send their children to school they expect them to be safe, and it’s our responsibility, so we’ve been working tirelessly to respond and prevent.”

Earlier on the same day, Rosenbury spoke with a group of students during lunch time.

Rosenbury discussed the idea of bringing a police officer to the campus to help with safety, but many of the students in the group felt an officer would make them feel less safe and cause students to act more furtive.

“Sometimes the adults think the solution might be a police officer and that might make some students feel safe, but mostly the students didn’t pick up on that idea with me, at least the small sample I spoke to today. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to do it, but it’s not the only solution,” Rosenbury said.

Homecoming Commotion

At the high school’s homecoming football game on Friday, Oct. 8, a student who was banned from attending the game after being involved in the recent violent outbreaks attempted to enter Memorial Field. She was apprehended by police, and shouted at officers as they forced the teen away from the front gate.

According to documents obtained from the Port Townsend Police Department, the incident occurred shortly after the game started.

Police asked for three charges against the teen; a gross misdemeanor for obstructing a law enforcement officer, another gross misdemeanor for willfully disobeying school administration or refusing to leave, and a misdemeanor for disturbing school activities. The school district would not say whether the teen has been expelled or not.

“We never want this type of behavior to become tolerated. It’s harmful to the students that are directly involved and anyone who witnesses it, which unfortunately these things have been very public, shared on the internet, or happening during public times,” Rosenbury said.

The superintendent met with parents at the high school Oct. 13 to hear their concerns, and discuss potential solutions to prevent any more fights or violent incidents from happening between students.

“We have seen an increase in behavior incidents,” Rosenbury told The Leader.

“We are not alone in this, as many school districts nationwide have seen an increase in violence; that does not mean it is OK,” she said. “Any incident reported to the district will be investigated thoroughly. We respond swiftly with measures that ensure the short-term safety of our community and that also build a culture of inclusion. When necessary, we must suspend students; but we know that punitive measures alone don’t work.”