Dec. 2—HAVERHILL — The School Committee ordered administrators at Haverhill High to ban the use of cell phones among students caught taking video of fights.
The policy was unanimously approved by the committee in response to a series of fights, including one Nov. 10 in the cafeteria that involved a number of students.
Officials said that fight was recorded by a student using a cell phone. Students post these sorts of recordings on social media to gain a "moment of fame," they said.
The videos often are picked up by local news outlets and broadcast to viewers.
During a discussion on ways the high school is responding violence among students — at least 15 fights involving 44 students have broken out since the start of the academic year — committee member Rich Rosa asked if losing their cell phones would deter students from recording the incidents.
"You can't do anything worse than taking away a student's phone," he said. "Their worst fear in life is they won't have their phone."
High School Principal Jason Meland said students who violate the cell phone policy are required to hand their phones to their assistant principals each morning and retrieve them at the end of the day.
"We're dealing with what we call digital natives ... kids who don't know the world without social media, without cell phones, without electronics being attached to them at all times," he said.
Rosa suggested that any change to the cell phone policy be reviewed by the high school administration first, then brought to the committee for a vote in December.
Mayor James Fiorentini asked for immediate action.
"I don't think this should wait for a policy committee meeting or the next meeting or anything like that," he said. "I think we should act on it right now."
Meland asked for an opportunity to speak with his administrative team. The mayor responded that they've had since the start of school year to deal with the problem.
The committee approved the change with the understanding that the administration would determine how the program works.
The committee also approved a request by School Superintendent Margaret Marotta to transfer money in the budget to hire two additional adjustment counselors at the high school, along with two additional security guards. The committee also approved adding a school resource officer at the middle-school level and to adjust the academic calendar to add more professional development time for teachers across the district.
Meland said he plans to increase capacity in the high school's night program and in the Gateway program at the Crowell School. Further, Meland said there are plans to grow the Gateway program into a full alternative school for students who are not succeeding in a large high school.
Committee Vice Chairperson Scott Wood said he likes the idea, but does not want to use it to segregate students based on their socio-economic status.
"We need to make sure we are not creating a building that is simply an alternative school for poor kids," he said. "I don't think that's appropriate."