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Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Details Altercation At City High School

A crowd of young people mill in front of an entrance with "TACONIC" spelled out in metal over it
Pittsfield Public Schools

A video of a fight between three students at a public high school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts has provoked concern and conversation in the community in recent days. The fight at Taconic High School Tuesday led to the intervention and injury of multiple staff members, as well as disciplinary actions toward the participants. In a message to the school community, Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Curtis condemned the violence. He says the incident isn’t representative of the culture of Taconic High. Curtis spoke with WAMC about what exactly happened, and why he’s disgusted with the spread of the video on social media.

CURTIS: Well, at around 7:21 what started as an argument and disagreement between two to three students led into a fight, as many have seen, unfortunately, on video. And from all indicators currently, it was something that has been evolving outside of school, and then certainly, as you saw, was brought into the school.

WAMC: It's been said that a staff member was involved and injured in the altercation. Is that true?

Yes, there were two administrators that were trying to assist the students in breaking up the fight and one was kicked in the face. And the other one slipped on some water from a water bottle that was being held by the student.

Now, what happened on the day of the incident at the school, and what's happened since then throughout the system?

That evening, I recorded a video, and sent a video to all secondary families outlining my expectations and how that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. Certainly sent that out, [it] was about 7:30, 8 o'clock that evening, just so we can clearly convey that, which to me should be understood, but, just to clarify expectations that fighting and violence, speech that was involved in the altercation will not be tolerated, and of course, the code of conduct, character and support that we re-authored back a couple of years ago through a large community and staff and student effort will be utilized and followed.

Was there any intervention from law enforcement or charges expected to be filed as a result of the altercation?

There was no [Student Resource Officer] in the building at the time. They did certainly come to the school after the incident. And I could not tell you the status of the charges, if any.

You alluded earlier to the fact that a video of the fight has emerged online. In this day and age, when that kind of recording of an incident like this goes outside of the context of the school, how do you respond to that? And what does it mean for the students in the video?

Well, I clarify the expectations in my letter and video overview that any student that films such a heinous act, and then certainly publicizes it in social media and other locations will face initially up to five days suspension. Quite honestly, I consider the filming and promoting of such an event publicly very serious. And you know, when I watch the camera footage from the school itself, of students taking out their phones and making every attempt to capture every moment of the fight and then the support that was trying to be provided to stop the fight, I found that extremely concerning to say the least. Unfortunately, there were some students that initially posted the video on social media and stuff and such. But then I've seen adults post the video on social media. This is why our students do this, because it gains so much attention. And it's very unfortunate that adults are doing the same. And so, as you know, it seems to be part of our society and becoming the norm more every day. But nevertheless, if it happens in one of our schools, any student caught doing so will be served with an accountable consequence.

Do you have a message to the broader Pittsfield school community at this point, beyond what you've already issued, about safety at Taconic? Again, there's a lot of conversation going around out there, and I'm interested to hear from you sort of exactly what you're trying to counter that with.

I was at the school committee meeting last evening. I assured all of our families that this is not the typical student experience at Taconic. This is a small group of students that are having difficulty reintegrating into the school setting, often bringing problems that exist out in the community into the school day. But this is not the typical experience. And as I pledged the other evening on video, certainly last night at the school committee, these kinds of acts will be dealt with swiftly and with accountable consequences. And we will insist on, when the consequence has been served, and the student reintegrates into the back into the school – or students, and this is for any occurrence, not just this recent one – that a restorative plan will be put in place where they have to make right with what happened and the people involved. And that often occurs through mediation, conversations and such, and it's very individualized depending on the situation.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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