Welcome to “Fight Club Middle School.”
That’s what kids have started to call Fugett Middle School in the West Chester Area School District. Parents gave the school board and superintendent an earful recently about the lack of discipline at the school, which serves around 900 students in grades 6 through 8.
Classmates attacked one student in the gym, resulting in a concussion. Two teachers were present during that incident, a parent said.
Fights, as many as four a day, break out in the hallways, said Stephanie Beisser.
“We are in a crisis,” she told the school board at the May 24 meeting.
“Our kids are afraid to go to the cafeteria,” she said. “They hide in the bathroom or don’t go to school.”
A district survey found that nearly 30 percent of students in the district report they have been bullied. That compares to 22 percent nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, the other two middle schools apparently are not experiencing the same issues with bullying and fighting as Fugett.
And, Beisser said, Principal Dionne Fears, D.Ed., does not respond to parents’ emails, or if she does, she does not take responsibility. One email from Fears said, “This is the society we live in,” said Beisser, who spoke on behalf of several parents who worried that if they spoke out, their children would face retaliation.
Another parent said teachers are not allowed to intervene to stop fights.
That is “unacceptable,” he said.
Morale is low for students and teachers, another parent added.
“I literally have to pull my son out of bed every day,” a parent said. When they talk to school officials, they are “told what I want to hear.”
The school district has convened focus groups of parents, students, and teachers. Substitute Superintendent Kalia Reynolds, D.Ed., met with 20 parents Monday night. One father attending the meeting who asked that his name not be used told DVJournal he is unsatisfied and concerned about his children who attend the school.
“From my perspective, this really boils down to a lack of leadership at the principal and superintendent levels,” he said. “They’ve been listening a lot. But at what point do you take action and start communicating your progress? And that hasn’t happened. And need to know they’re aware of bullying, they’re aware of fighting, but there is very little action taken so far in the school year. Inbound sixth graders have already named it ‘fight club,’ and that’s not right.”
“It seems like no action is being taken with very little communication, and it’s like a sweep it under the rug. It’ll maybe get better next year. And that’s not the responsible approach that we parents are looking for.”
Beisser, who has two children at the school, told DVJournal one suggestion that came out of the focus groups was for student mediation, “which is one of the worst suggestions because when another student bullies students, the last thing you want is for them to sit the bully across the table from the person that they’re bullying because they then you’re just re-victimizing them.”
She said there is an outpouring among parents who want to fix the school.
“We want our kids to be happy and feel safe, and right now, that’s not the situation. It’s hard when the leader doesn’t want to step up, embrace the community, and make things better.”
Gemma Hrevatis told DVJournal that she and her husband will send their son to a Catholic school in the fall rather than let him start 6th grade at Fugett.
“It was very heartbreaking,” she said. “I went to the parent middle school information session, and everything looked great. They have their own floor, so they don’t have to mingle with the older kids, and I thought my son would thrive there. Then I began to hear stories about the lack of communication, the bullying, the whole morale…I don’t think it would be a good place for him to continue growing into the person we want him to be.”
When they checked out the Catholic school, she said people in the office already knew his name.
“The kids made him feel so welcome,” she added. “It just felt good.”
Mary Schwemler, a spokeswoman for the district, said it is working to improve things.
“The West Chester Area School District appreciates that some of our Fugett Middle School families have voiced not only their concerns but also their strong desire to collaborate with school and district leaders to ensure that Fugett is an environment where students thrive,” she said. “We are prioritizing clear communication, engagement, and transparency as we work together to further develop an action plan to address the issues brought up at the board meeting and in recent focus groups. We look forward to making adjustments to continue to strengthen our Fugett community over the summer and into the coming school year.”
Sources at No Left Turn in Education alerted DVJournal to this school board meeting.