NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH) — New Britain High School (NBHS) students will return to the classroom Thursday. The school district had originally made the decision to temporarily go remote starting Wednesday, but the CT State Department of Education (CSDE) has since told the district to reopen the high school.
The district released a statement saying, “CSDE continues to be committed to ensuring all students in Connecticut have the best educational experience possible, and the data says that means it’s best if students learn in person. We’re grateful for the hard work of our educators and administrators who have worked to make this a reality.”
It was a confusing day Wednesday, as dozens of students ended up arriving at school anyway, saying they were not told that the high school had switched back to remote-only learning. Even the bus drivers didn’t get the message. Not only did not everybody get that message, but the message about why they were all remote was a little confusing, too.
“The bus picked me up and everything,” said New Britain High Junior Jeremy Castillo. “So now I’ve got to walk home and everything.”
The high school cited the difficulty some students were facing with transitioning back to the classroom as their reason to go remote.
“The past 14 days have been an adjustment for many as they re-learned how to be among more than 2,000 students. The vast majority have adjusted well and are acclimated to this school year. However, there are some students who have not been able to adjust according to the high expectations we hold at the high school,” said Principal Damon Pearce in a press release Tuesday. “Because of this, we are hitting the refresh button and restarting the…school year.”
In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, school leaders reported it was about 50 of the 2,000 students who are causing the majority of the problems. Many say dozens of fights took place in the first two weeks, with as many as seven altercations in one day.
Freshman Maddie Mahoney told News 8, “I was a witness to a lot of them. Some of them were bad, but they weren’t too bad, but there was a lot with the weed and the fighting.”
It sounds like one of the state’s biggest schools was too much for some.
“Yeah, this is a really big school,” said freshman Eric Nwosu. “It could be overwhelming for some other students.”
When students started asking around, however, they heard a very different reason.
“I asked one of the guards why the school was shutting down and he said that kids are vandalizing the school,” Castillo said. “Kids are stealing sinks, urinals and all that, so they have to shut it down for a while.”
It is part of a nationwide craze of students posting TikTok videos of themselves smashing school bathrooms. It has parents angry and confused.
“Now that after all this time they’ve been at home, they have an opportunity to come back to school,” said Eric’s mother, Ijeoma Nwosu. “Some TikTok, or whatever they call it is making them behave in ways that are quite unusual for children to do.”
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart initially blasted the school district in a statement on Facebook:
“My office was informed by the school district that this decision was made because of recent issues in controlling student behavior, specifically vandalism and fighting,” Stewart wrote.”I’m disappointed in this decision. It’s not fair to the majority of students who behave respectfully and want to be in school to learn.”
Some parents echoed her sentiments saying they feel going online is punishing all the students for the actions of a few.
Stewart said the Board of Education needs to make finding a solution to this problem their highest priority. The mayor offered her help and help from the New Britain Police Department to control this issue if the school district is not able to.
“Our students deserve to learn in a safe environment,” Stewart said. “Our parents deserve the comfort knowing that their child is in school and our teachers deserve a safe space to educate.”
Tasmine Griffin, an NBHS parent, said of her daughter, “I’m very upset, she was upset. She was looking forward to coming to school every day, seeing her friends…She’s on the volleyball team now; every day counts!”
Mayor Stewart added, “We are not kicking kids out of school. We are talking about a tiered approach, a systemic approach in solving some of the behavioral problems that have impacted students who have not been in school for a year.”
Superintendent Nancy Sarra said, “Our buildings are safe, the behaviors are behaviors of students not knowing how to get along with each other they are acting out behaviors, but it doesn’t rise to the level of any police involvement.”
Originally, Mayor Stewart came out against the shutdown, saying, “You can’t close down schools for behavioral problems.” But after a meeting with the superintendent and school officials Wednesday evening, she agreed it was good to have one day to take a breath.
View the full letter here.