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West Chester Area Parents Complain About ‘Fight Club’ Middle School

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.

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Turmoil in Upper Darby School District May Lead Voters to Switch to GOP

Turmoil in the Upper Darby School District may lead voters to turn to Republican candidates to join the school board; local activists tell DVJournal.

Candidates are vying for five seats. The Republicans have cross-filed, which is the norm for what are supposed to be non-partisan positions. But the endorsed Democrats and one unendorsed Democrat have not.

In recent years, high school students have fought each other inside and outside the school, leading to some shop owners nearby closing early as school is about to let out. And middle schools have also been the scene of student fights. Other problems include bullying, truancy, and students roaming the hallways at random.

The district also faces a teacher shortage, falling achievement scores, and other issues.

Videos have surfaced online of fights that have taken place, and there is now a “Drexel Hill Middle School Fight Page” on TikTok. A “Sleeping Page” of students sleeping, videos, and photos showing kids vaping in school bathrooms were also posted online but have been removed.

The high school now caps the credits, so students are allowed to earn at 21, leading many students to graduate their junior year and spend their “senior” year at community college.

The GOP candidates believe they can do better.

Republican Kristen Truax, who has been a school nurse at Stonehurst Hills Elementary, hopes to turn things around if elected to the school board.

“I’ve seen so many changes in the past six years,” she said. “We need to treat our teachers and staff differently to retain them.” While other school districts are also experiencing teacher shortages, she said Upper Darby has the most openings in Delaware County.

There is also a problem with student discipline.

“There are no consequences,” she said. “It takes a lot to have a consequence…These kids are getting away with so many things.”

“There’s 10 percent of the kids they can’t control, and the 90 percent of kids are missing out,” she said. She believes more guidance counselors are needed and that each school should have an equal number.

“We need behavioral therapists to come in and help these kids who are having behavior problems,” she said.

Elementary schools need more reading and math specialists to keep kids from falling behind.

She would also bring back the senior year for students and allow students to take more than 21 credits. She said the 21-credit cap has led to problems for some students who applied to four-year colleges that require more credits.

Candidate James Plummer, Ph.D., said he never stopped learning and hopes to bring that love of learning to the school district.

Now administrator for population health with the Delaware County Health Department, he returned to school after a 25-year career with the U.S. Postal Service.

“The thing I’m really passionate about is the safety of the kids,” said Plummer. He is also concerned that too many teachers are leaving the district.

If elected, “we’ll work together to put in safety measures.” The district needs more mental health services for students who are acting out. But most of the students “are really good kids who really want to learn,” he said.

In addition to Truax and Plummer, the GOP candidates are: Pat Benner, Frank Zarrilli, and Joey Mazza. Benner, a former high school principal, is the CEO of Benner Insurance Solutions. Zarrilli served on the school board from 1995 to 2015. He’s retired from the Delaware County Public Defender’s Office, where he served as deputy director for his last eight years. Mazza is an entrepreneur who opened a business coaching and consulting firm. He has been involved in management since college and also shares his time with the nonprofit Upper Darby Collaborative.

“I served on the nearby Springfield Township School Board for 18 years and as president for four years,” said Frank Agovino, chair of the Delaware County Republicans. “During my tenure, we built a brand-new high school, upgraded many facilities, and navigated the complex challenges associated with running a public school system during a global pandemic.

“It is with that experience in mind that I say that I am deeply concerned about the stability – even viability – of the largest school district in Delaware County. It is my sincere belief that the students of the Upper Darby School District deserve better than they are getting from the current leadership. District leaders have recently publicly admitted that they need assistance controlling violent behavior, that the current facilities do not meet the needs of their students, and that continued property tax hikes are inevitable,” he said.

“There must be a real sense of urgency to elect new leaders who have the experience and a plan to address these challenges in earnest. I know our candidates, once elected, will rise to these challenges,” Agovino said.

The endorsed Democrats include three incumbents: Don Fields, Damien Christopher- Warsavage, and Dessiree LaMarr- Murphy. And two newcomers:  Kimberly Glenn, an administrative assistant, and Brittney Williams, a teacher. Jennifer Howell, a legal talent coordinator with a law firm, is running as an unendorsed Democrat.

Colleen Guiney, chair of the Delaware County Democratic Committee, said, “The current Upper Darby School Board has made historic investments in the underfunded districts’ infrastructure, curriculum, and social and emotional supports. These important investments were not a priority of previous boards and were greatly needed for the safety and success of their students. The incumbent board members and their endorsed slate members are deeply committed to the success of our students and community.”

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