SUFFIELD — - Three October incidents, including one resulting in an expulsion, have raised concerns at Suffield High School about the relationship between Suffield residents and out-of-district students attending the school.
In separate instances, a student apparently afraid of another student or of a few others was found in possession of a knife; an argument broke out in the parking lot after a Spirit Night event; and students have been disciplined for displaying the Confederate flag.
The extent of racial tension in the incidents remains unclear, but Superintendent of Schools Jack Reynolds said the problem lies in a combination of racial, cultural and territorial differences.
Details of the knife possession incident are private because expulsion and disciplinary hearings are conducted in executive session, but Reynolds said the high school student was expelled because possession of a weapon during school "is a mandatory expellable offense."
"There is no reason to tie that incident to race or to Hartford students," Reynolds said. He said the dispute was an isolated incident.
Suffield High School enrolls 14 Hartford students through Open Choice, and another 16 students from the city attend the regional agriscience center there. Eighty-three students from eight other towns attend the agriscience center. Among those, 34 are from Enfield and 28 are from Windsor Locks.
Open Choice places Hartford students in suburban districts via a lottery system with the goal of reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation, said Dwight Blint, a spokesman for the Capitol Region Education Council.
In a message to parents and students posted on the school's website, Suffield High School Principal Donna Hayward said the Confederate flag is not allowed at the school because it is considered a symbol of hate.
She wrote that students recently have been disciplined for displaying the flag, and that students who do so in the future "will face harsh disciplinary action."
Reynolds said the district would try to rectify the apparent tension at the school by putting a greater focus on diversity and life-skills training. He said he has reached out to CREC and the state Department of Education for input and said the district would try to involve the community or student leaders in the process of improving relations.
"If we have great test scores, but we don't teach kids how to deal with the 21st-century world, we're a failure as a school system," Reynolds said. "That's part of our mission."
In a letter posted on the district website, Reynolds said the recent incidents are "a strong indication that we have a significant problem that needs to be thoroughly addressed."
First Selectman Scott Lingenfelter said he has suggested that the district use any town services that would help, such as the Youth Services Department.
"I have made regular attempts to get as much information as possible to stay on top of what's going on [at the high school]," Lingenfelter said. "From what I can tell so far, race doesn't seem to be the impetus behind it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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