EHS Climate Reports Summary

Caolo & Bieniek Associates, Inc.

Alice Wanamaker, Journalist

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Note From The Author

After the biased incidents that occurred last spring at EHS, there were several investigations conducted on the school. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, the Collaborative for Educational Services, and the superintendent’s office all released a report on the issues within EHS.

All three of these reports identified a lack of communication as a major issue within EHS. Over six months after the events last spring, many students still do not have a clear picture of the issues within the school. In writing this summary, I wanted to give students an overview of the information within the reports. Having a school-wide understanding of the issues within EHS is an important starting step to making positive change happen.

Report from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office

Since March of 2017, the AGO (Attorney General’s Office) has been receiving complaints about EHS’s poor handling of bias-related issues. The complaints began after three EHS students of color confronted a white student about a racist text message he was involved with. Over the following weeks, there were many complaints about how students were disciplined following the confrontation. There was also an increase in tension within the school.

The AGO investigated both these specific events and the school as a whole. EPSD (the Easthampton Public School Department) and EHS cooperated with the investigation.

The AGO found that EHS needs to improve the way it responds to bias-related incidents. Last year, bias-related incidents created a school environment that made many students feel unsafe and unwelcome. Although more severe biased conduct has come from only a small group of students, bias-related comments were found to be common and widespread at EHS.

EPSD/EHS did not notice or respond to warning signs that appeared before the confrontation. There was increased tension both in EHS and in Easthampton as a whole last year, particularly following the election. EPSD/EHS also failed to react helpfully to events following the confrontation, encouraging further acts of harassment within the school.

The AGO concluded that EHS needs to update its guidelines regarding discipline-particularly how to discipline students in a consistent and fair way. EHS also needs updated guidelines around when and how police are involved in school discipline.

 

Collaborative for Educational Services

The Collaborative for Educational Services surveyed hundreds of people about the climate within EHS. They got information from students, teachers, parents, and administrators.

There is a general feeling of tension within EHS. Biased jokes, comments, and interactions have a negative impact on EHS culture (even if the occur outside of school). Many students feel unwelcome and unsafe as a result of these issues.

Students have a very different picture of the culture at EHS than staff do. Students reported hearing biased jokes and comments much more often than staff did. They also believed that staff intervene on these issues only rarely, while adults in the building reported more frequent adult interventions.

Many people from all groups within the school (students, teachers, parents, administration) believed that discipline for biased actions was not consistent or effective. Rules in the handbook are not always applied the same way or applied at all. People from all groups believed that current discipline does not do a good job of preventing future incidents.

All groups thought that increased education on the topic of diversity was important for everyone in the school. Better communication between these different groups was also found to be important-particularly improving transparency and trust between these groups.

 

Report from the Superintendent

After the events at EHS last spring, EPSD (the Easthampton Public School Department) worked to better understand the issues at the school. They reviewed documents and records, as well as interviewing students. They also looked at survey data (including the Collaborative for Educational Services report). These were their findings:

  • Discipline policies, particularly policies about how to recognize and respond to biased acts, need to be updated.
  • Different groups in the school (students, teachers, administration, etc.) had different information about discipline-both about what policies were and about specific disciplinary actions.
  • The different groups had very different pictures of the culture at EHS.
  • Communication between these different groups was not clear or consistent while the issues were taking place last year, causing confusion for many people.
  • The increase in tension within EHS is related to the increase in tension in the US as a whole. In particular, EHS tension increased significantly after the 2016 presidential election.
  • Issues were treated as single problems when they were actually part of a larger problem. General problems with school culture were not addressed.
  • All groups involved at EHS are eager to work towards improving culture and tolerance at EHS.

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EHS Climate Reports Summary