Beaty Warren Middle School teacher Ruby Pope addresses the school board regarding behavioral issues at the school. Photo by Brian Hagberg.

“It’s Become Chaos”

May 29, 2023

RUSSELL, Pa. – A group of Beaty teachers made impassioned pleas to the Warren County School District Board of Directors during Monday’s committee meetings for assistance with discipline issues at the school.

Each of the teachers who spoke has been teaching for 15 or more years, and each said they’ve never seen discipline issues as egregious and voluminous as what they’ve seen over the last three months at Beaty.

“It’s become chaos,” Wendy Carrington said. “We’re kind of feeling a little helpless right now. It has become the norm in my classroom and this happened before, to be told to ‘F– off’ or been told ‘You’re stupid.’”

Carrie Niemitz said the lack of enforcement for the discipline code has led to most of the issues.

“Our students need rules, they need order, they need routine,” Niemitz said. “And they also need consequences. And whenever you don’t have those, you come up with chaos, and then chaos breeds chaos. And recently at our school, I feel that we’ve kind of lost a lot of that control.”

Christine Somansky explained some of the safety issues that have arisen due to student behavior.

“We have students who are swinging chairs . . . anything they can at us,” Somansky said. “We’re getting books thrown at us. We’re not properly equipped to handle those types of situations.”

Niemitz said the behaviors have resulted in changes not just to the students acting out, but others in the building as well.

“I’ve seen a drastic change in the behaviors of the students,” Niemitz said. “I’ve seen a change in my colleagues, I’ve seen a change in my son who was a student within the building. And I can even see some changes within myself. I feel that the camaraderie and the family feeling and the positive school culture that we’ve worked so hard to build are quickly diminishing.”

Board member Arthur Stewart referenced his recent appearance on Your Daily Local’s Coffee & a Conversation when asking if the issues teachers are seeing appeared recently or are part of a general regression over time.

“I had occasion to do an interview with the press here, we were just talking about things in general and I was talking about being on the school board and how things are different over the 33 years that I’ve been here,” Stewart said. “And I recalled a story and told it that I hadn’t thought for a long time. But when I was in high school, one of the most memorable experiences I had was being held down to John Niese’s office, he was the principal and I got a chewing out of the kind that you don’t want to get very often. And it changed directions (for me).”
See Stewart’s comments during Coffee & a Conversation here:

Most of the teachers agreed that while behavior, generally, has been gradually heading in this direction, the major issues just recently began cropping up.

“Since the end of February, the beginning of March, we’ve had so many different personnel in and out of our building, that most of our students don’t care if there’s an adult standing there, because they don’t know if that person is important,” Carrington said. “They don’t know why that person’s there, they don’t look at that adult and say, ‘Oh, that person can get me in trouble.’ They just think it’s just another random person walking through the school that has some kind of title. So they are not afraid, they even various many times said fine right now, I don’t care, nothing’s gonna happen.”

“I would also agree that the children of today are definitely not what they used to be. But there definitely has been a much more rapid decline recently,” Niemitz added. “I think it just all goes back to the consistency and looking at the discipline code, and just following the code.”

Board member Jeff Daugherty, who is often in the school as part of his duties with the City of Warren Police, agreed that the situation is out of hand.

“As a parent of a student at Beaty I see the exact same things, as a professional in the community, walking through that school, I see the same things,” Daugherty said. “It’s extremely frustrating to listen to what I just listened to. Because I do see it. I don’t know if it’s a policy issue. I don’t know what it is, there’s a clear bias towards certain students being reprimanded and being disciplined throughout that school. I see it every day, I’ve listened to it. I’ve actually stopped doing walkthroughs at that school because I’ve been frustrated on how the staff and students are being treated. Something needs to change.”

One of the possibilities raised for the behavior issues was the concentration of special needs students in the central attendance area. Director of Pupil Services Dr. Patricia Mead pointed out that non-IEP students have had significantly more conferences than IEP students.

“There are 143 student conferences for children with IEPs, there were 331 student conferences for children without disabilities,” Mead said. “So when we sit down and then we look at patterns. And we’re having 12 student conferences with the same child. Those are things that we’re doing in my office. And it is very difficult to control both the direct and the indirect variables that are influencing the experiences in the classroom every day.”

The teachers said another factor influencing the behavior is a lack of adequate staffing to deal with students when they cause issues in the classroom.

“If the student stormed out of the room we need to have people that can chase after them and take them to the calming room and bring them to the principal’s office or something,” Carrington said. “As of right now, there just aren’t enough people to do that. So a lot of times, I’m standing in my doorway, watching to see where the kids going. So that we can track it back down later.”

Superintendent Amy Stewart suggested that it wasn’t necessarily the individual behaviors that were the primary issue, but the increased number of those behaviors.

“One of the things that I hear very often we have had behaviors in classrooms forever. It’s the volume,” Amy Stewart said. “Right now the number of students in which we’re getting the behaviors these are things that we haven’t seen before.”

She also suggested that changing the building schedule could help alleviate some of the staffing issues.

“The schedule in that building that has to support where people are at given times has to be completely re-engineered in order to get the people where they need to be,” Amy Stewart said. “And we are ready to dive into that you know, what needs to happen. But again in May, you’re not going to learn to completely re-engineer master scheduling the building.”

Additionally, changes in administration are set for the 2023-24 school year as current Warren Area Elementary Center principal Jennifer Hobbs will be taking that role at Beaty.

While Arthur Stewart acknowledged that there was little the board could do at this point to make changes for the current school year, he also commended the teachers for raising their concerns with the board.

“Nothing that this board can do is going to change anything on the ground in the next three weeks,” Arthur Stewart said. “It takes enormous courage for teachers to come and share these concerns. And we appreciate that courage and what it means. And we don’t want to hear that you don’t want to come back next year. And we want to throw a lifeline.”

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