School District Temporarily Remote as Vandalism, Fights Make In-Person Classes Difficult

A high school in Connecticut returned to in-person classes for the first time since the start of the pandemic but is already sending students home for temporary remote learning because of students' bad behavior.

Principal Damon Pearce said in a letter to students and families on Tuesday that New Britain High School is "hitting the refresh button" and will restart the school year. Hartford Mayor Erin Stewart said the school was having issues with out-of-control vandalism and fighting.

"I'm disappointed in this decision, it's not fair to the majority of students who behave respectfully and want to be in school to learn," Stewart, a Republican, said in a Facebook post.

The mayor added that students causing behavior problems should be held accountable and offered the assistance of the New Britain police.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Back to School
In Connecticut, one high school decided to return to remote learning for three days due to vandalism and fighting amongst students. Justin Turner of the Dodgers distributes back-to-school backpacks from the Dodgers and Walmart to youth at the Variety Boys & Girls Club in Boyle Heights on August 6 in Los Angeles, California. Cassidy Sparrow/Getty Images

Pearce initially said instruction would be done remotely through the end of this week, but the district later notified parents that students would be welcome back Thursday for a half-day.

As students return to schools after a year and a half of learning disrupted by the pandemic, many districts have reported issues with behavior, including vandalism promoted by a viral TikTok challenge.

Vilmaris Diaz said the switch left her daughter, a junior at the high school, in disbelief. Diaz said that her daughter much prefers in-person learning and that the change left families, including hers, scrambling to rework their schedules.

"I'm assuming the behavior we are dealing with maybe slightly worse than what we've had in the past because of the pandemic, and kids' adjustments, but I don't think it was a reason for us to attempt to go remote for three days," Diaz said.

Since New Britain's school year started two weeks ago, students have had to adjust to being at a school with over 2,000 pupils, Pearce said. Many did not come into school buildings at all last year because of the coronavirus. Those that did attended a school that had less than 500 students present most of the year.

The problems involve 50 to 60 students, school officials said. Officials were using the opportunity of the remote day on Wednesday to develop plans to better engage the students, some of whom had been largely off the school's radar for 18 months, Superintendent Nancy Sarra said at a news conference.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education, Eric Scoville, said the district's actions conflicted with state guidance that does not recommend a move to full remote learning. He said that there have been discussions with local officials and that the state will provide help responding to the behavioral health needs identified by the district.

In his letter Tuesday, Pearce urged parents to speak with their children about "acceptable and appropriate behavior" in school.