Apponequet Regional High School is cracking down on rule breakers among its 840 students following complaints from the student council about smoking in the bathrooms, lax student discipline, and ineffective control tactics by the administration.
Superintendent John McCarthy, head of the Freetown-Lakeville school district, said in-school suspension, supervised by a newly hired teacher’s aide, was reinstated last week. As of Monday, a second assistant principal, David Worthley, was on site to patrol the hallways and provide the administration with greater visibility. Saturday school, a form of detention, is also in operation.
People can expect this heightened focus on student discipline to stick, McCarthy said.
“We will make it a priority to make it last. I know the School Committee wants to see it continue,’’ he said, adding the district used money from cost savings on oil, electricity, and snow removal to fund the two new positions.
McCarthy said a student caught misbehaving was previously either given out-of-school suspension or detention, without much in between. Now with in-school suspension, “a student can be there all day,’’ he said. “Students can get help with their work and get caught up in their studies.’’
Peers’ annoyance over a small percentage of student troublemakers - estimated at about 30 out of the entire student body - grew to a breaking point this year, in large part a consequence of cutbacks that left the school without its in-school suspension program.
Margaret Secakusuma, a sophomore representative on the student council, said the biggest problem is the smoking in the bathrooms.
“It is really disgusting and unsanitary. I find myself not wanting to go the bathroom, which I know is the case for many of my peers,’’ she said. “Smoking is definitely a hot topic. Students don’t like it. Parents are not happy about it at all.’’
The student council, which includes nearly 100 representatives, met with McCarthy in mid-March to voice its concerns. Representatives suggested adding more disciplinary measures, including in-school suspension and a higher level of adult supervision in the hallways.
The superintendent also met with faculty twice in February, brainstorming solutions to a number of issues, including student discipline, related to budget cuts that forced the school to lay off four teachers and the head of guidance counseling.
McCarthy agreed the students were most upset by the amount of smoking occurring in restrooms, which they found difficult to avoid.
“It was probably the number-one concern for them,’’ he said. Only a dozen students have been caught smoking inside the high school this year, he said, and all have been disciplined, but the challenge is catching them.
Indeed, in a March newsletter, principal Jill Proulx said the school is researching smoke detector monitoring systems, and called for student clubs and leaders to help put an end to smoking at the school.
Smoking in the bathroom is a longtime issue, dating back years, but it worsened this fall. Previously, the administration allowed students use of a single unlocked bathroom, monitored at all times by a teacher. But this year, to prevent students from unnecessary long walks and lines for the toilet, the administration allowed them access to all student bathrooms in the building.
With smokers hitting multiple bathrooms, the increased smokiness irked students who felt they were also seeing their peers get away with more school infractions than in the past, said Secakusuma.
“It just seems like students are misbehaving and getting punishments that make no difference to them, and it’s taking away from the learning experience for the rest of us,’’ she said.
She said in-school suspension was replaced this past fall by social suspension, which banned misbehaving students from school functions such as dances, but it had almost no impact.
Secakusuma, who is involved with the drama club, school choir, and international exchange program at the school, said some students clog the hallways, displaying a total disregard for peers stuck behind them.
“They just don’t care. They aren’t even trying to rush to class,’’ she said.
And the smokers ignore fellow students’ preference for clean air, she said, having grown confident the administration is without the resources to call them to task: “It’s a game for the smokers. They do it for thrills - to see how far they can push the boundaries.’’
Robert C. Nogueira, a member of the Freetown Lakeville Transitional School Committee, said the panel has faith that the superintendent and principal will be able to get things in order, particularly with the additional staff now.
Secakusuma, an honor roll student, said she remains a big fan of her school.
“It is a great learning environment, except for the smoking and whatnot,’’ she said.