Friday, June 14, 2024

Somerville High School seen in July. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

Students won’t be returning to the Winter Hill Community Innovation School in Somerville anytime soon, and classes that moved to the Edgerly Education Building will be there “at least the next four to five years” while the district assesses next steps, superintendent Ruben Carmona said at Monday’s meeting of the School Committee. 

The Sycamore Street building was closed abruptly in June for safety reasons after a piece of concrete fell from the ceiling above a stairwell.

District officials plan to meet with the Winter Hill committee Wednesday to discuss reports of school-building asbestos, and on Thursday will hold a community meeting to share information on the asbestos and the future of the Winter Hill building, they said at the meeting.

More of the Monday meeting was about school officials’ response to student fights that broke out Thursday at Somerville High School. That includes communicating with parents who, in age of school shootings, may panic when they don’t have information about their kids’ safety. 

There were five “events” outside the school in which adults were trying to stop student fights, Carmona said.

According to the high school’s principal, Alicia Kersten, there were neither significant injuries nor weapons involved in the fights. Kersten said each of the incidents involved separate friend groups and were seemingly unrelated, though she feels the first fight being outside in a public setting may have contributed to “energy in the building.”

Somerville High School was placed on a “secure and hold” – during which classroom doors are locked and students are kept from the hallways, but instruction continues as normal — a few moments before 11 a.m. Thursday. The secure and hold lasted until 11:32 a.m.

“I was thinking, and did deep analysis and reflection on everything that happened,” Kersten said. “Luckily, these sorts of things don’t happen very often, so when they do, they’re great learning opportunities to make sure all your systems are in place.”

Carmona called Kersten’s secure-and-hold move “a great reaction.” But the district was not as quick to share details of the incident and responses with families, which he apologized for.

He noted an email from one parent that “almost brought [him] to tears” describing getting texts from their daughter who “didn’t know what was going on.” Later, the parent told their child “I’m so glad you’re alive.”

“That kind of reaction to it, as a parent of a young kid, is not the kind of experience they want any of our families to be experiencing,” Carmona said.

Carmona said the district would collaborate with police and other security officials – as well as students and families – to move forward. The district is committed to being “part of the solution” that prevents students from being “engrossed” as an audience to violent outbreaks, Carmona said.

“When our students participate as just mere witnesses and passive members of something like this, it is very scary,” Carmona said. “This is something that is a reminder that we have to make sure that we engage the entire community in this process.”