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‘When is enough, enough?’: Parents plead for Akron Public Schools to change approach to violence in schools

The Akron Education Association said there hasn't been a day this school year when a teacher wasn't assaulted
John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center in Akron
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AKRON, Ohio — Parents and educators at Akron Public Schools are passionately pleading with district administration to address violence inside school buildings.

Akron Education Association President, Pat Shipe, called this week "chaos."

Wednesday at John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center. Akron Police responded to a 17-year-old that was stabbed following a fight involving him and two other students.

That same day, students at Jennings Middle School were in lockdown for a bomb threat.

Tuesday, 14 Akron Police cruisers showed arrived to Ellet Community Learning Center when a fight broke out between two students. Akron Public Schools Spokesman Mark Williamson said the fight was short-lived and could’ve been handled in 10 minutes if parents that showed up who exasperated the problem.

Early November, a student was stabbed during a fight at Firestone Community Learning Center.

“This is unsustainable, it is unacceptable and we are so highly concerned and we have absolutely no confidence left in the ability of the superintendent of this district to lead this district,” said Shipe.

Shipe feels that Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack is sweeping the violence under the rug and that The Akron Education Association’s concerns fall on deaf ears.

“Clearly, we are telling the truth. Clearly, we’ve tried every avenue to get this administration to step up,” she said. “We are being dismissed. We are being told we are over-exaggerating these things. We are being disrespected as educators, as the people that are on the ground in the buildings, and we believe we cannot continue.”

Parents we spoke to of high schoolers in the district said they’re conflicted. They didn’t want News 5 to use their full names, in fear of retaliation toward their kids.

“I want my daughter to go to school in the community she lives in,” said mom, Teresa. “But do I feel like I can continue to send my children to school every day wondering are they going to come home?”

Another parent, Kelly, said she didn’t want to speak out but said things have gotten out of hand.

“It’s frustrating because nothing is changing, nothing is happening and it’s just getting worse and worse,” she said.

Their kids are scared, too.

“My son doesn’t go to the bathroom at all when he is in school at all because all the fights are happening in the bathroom,” Kelly said.

Don Malarcik is the council for The Akron Education Association. He said the overwhelming concern of the 2,800 members is safety.

“My wife is an Akron Public School teacher. She’s been teaching for 22 years and I never said this before, I never felt this before, but today I’m afraid. I’m afraid for her to go to work and that’s wrong,” he said.

He said there’s a 20% educator vacancy in the district.

“The statistics show an Akron Public teacher is assaulted every day, once a day, in this year 2022 and not one student, not one student, has been expelled for teacher assault," said Malarcik.

Shipe said there’s a lack of consequences for the small minority of students who are causing the problems for the majority.

Parents echoed her sentiment.

“There’s other ways to handle things. There’s actual consequences. Don’t let the kids, when they go ahead and beat up somebody, don’t let them back in the school,” said Kelly.

In a letter to district parents obtained by News 5, Fowler-Mack said in part:

Any suggestion that school officials do not respond quickly and appropriately to the misbehavior of students is false. The safety of our staff and our students is foremost in every situation where discipline or removal of a student is warranted. Our application of student discipline aligns with the Student Code of Conduct and is balanced with the empathy and compassion needed to redirect student behavior whenever possible. This includes avoiding excessively punitive measures that shirk our responsibility to do what is best for everyone, including our students who struggle with the issues that can lead to unacceptable behavior.
Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack

Teresa said the letter upset her.

“Where is the empathy for these teachers that are being cussed at, and things being thrown, teachers being assaulted, students being afraid in school, where is the compassion and empathy for those students,” she asked. “ Two stabbings, now, we’ve had within a month. What is it going to take? When is enough, enough. Until somebody doesn’t come out of that building? When is it enough?”

A spokesperson from Fowler-Mack’s office did not respond to our questions about a plan of action to address violence.

But Don Zesiger, the Chief of Security at Akron Public Schools, said in a statement:

We are grateful the wounds inflicted on one of our students today were not life-threatening. And, we ask again that, in the shared responsibility we all have for student safety, our families engage in ongoing conversations about violent behavior and the serious consequences of making the choices some young people are making. As a community, too, we must continue this discussion because violence is prevalent now in our neighborhoods and it is flowing into our schools. We simply cannot continue on this course.
Don Zesiger

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan released a statement, too.

Public safety is, and will continue to be, the top priority of my administration. I am aware of the incidents which occurred at several Akron Public Schools this week and the concerns expressed by parents, teachers, and students alike about safety in their classrooms. I understand the need for investment into public safety and specifically for our youth. To date, we have spent $1.3M from our ARPA dollars to fund violence intervention and prevention efforts throughout the city, specifically targeting our youth in an attempt to get our kids on a better path. We will continue to invest in our local non-profits and faith organizations to help combat the violence in our communities and schools. Every student deserves a safe learning environment and as a former educator myself, I am incredibly supportive of our Akron Public Schools and all of our outstanding educators.
Dan Horrigan

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