Student letter criticizing HHS discipline responses prompts debate in Hudson

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More than 200 Hudson High School signed a letter criticizing administration responses to discipline issues. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

HUDSON – Hudson Schools Superintendent Marco Rodrigues defended administrators this week while also criticizing what he described as a “level of impatience” in the district.

This followed an open letter from more than 200 Hudson High School (HHS) students calling for “accountability” after what the students said have been insufficient responses to a series of discipline issues, ranging from vandalism, to incidents of disrespect toward teachers at Hudson High School. 

Unions representing HHS staff, in turn, have responded to Rodrigues’ comments, saying members were “offended” by their superintendent.

‘Administration needs to take action’

Students sent their letter in late April, according to School Committee Chair Michelle Tousignant Dufour. 

The matter was then put on the agenda for the School Committee’s meeting for Tuesday of this week.

“When I first came into Hudson High as an 8th grader, there were no concerns about my personal belongings being damaged, the bathrooms being destroyed or kids cursing out teachers. Students were held responsible for their actions,” the letter noted. “With every change in administration, less and less accountability has been demanded of students for their negative behaviors.”

“Administration needs to take action,” the student letter continued. “Stop saying you care about this school, show you care about the Hudson High School community. Reminding us to exhibit ‘Hawk Pride’ changes nothing. Actions speak louder than words.”

Rodrigues responded to the letter, saying that the perception that things were not being done was “erroneous.”

Rodrigues further referenced conversations with district staff and unions before saying language in the students’ letter matched certain language he heard in conversations with adults in the schools.

He called this “disappointing” and “disheartening.”

“Since I got to Hudson, there is this way of thinking that the administration has to fix everything but no one has to be contributors to it,” he said. “If we have problems, we need solutions and solutions involve everybody.”

He reiterated comments about the language in the student letter.

“We understand that there are frustrations and we understand that there are other things that come into play,” he said. “But, in my point of view, when I read this letter…I recognized sentences and paragraphs that I had heard from adults.” 

“If that’s the case, the only plausible conclusion that I can come to here is that the kids were coached in writing this letter,” he continued. “That’s the part that I find difficult to understand.”

The unions refuted this in a statement to the Community Advocate, saying that “the idea that the staff was behind the writing of the student letter” was “insulting to our students’ ability to take a leadership role and articulate their concerns to the Hudson community.”

Students write letter

District and high school leaders have noted issues at the high school throughout the current school year. 

Among those comments, Rodrigues discussed a series of fights at HHS in September. More recently, a number of cars were found keyed in the HHS parking lot, prompting a police investigation.

Officials on Tuesday again acknowledged a spike in discipline problems, citing a 165% increase in office referrals in the first quarter of the 2021-2022 school year compared to the same time period in the 2019-2020 school year.

There was an 88% increase across all of the first semester, according to HHS Principal Jason Medeiros, coinciding with a 40% increase in total suspensions across the school year. 

Medeiros also noted anecdotal observations that the district has put more students on long term suspensions – of 10 days or longer – than he has seen in any other year during his career. 

“Have we had challenging behaviors throughout the school year? Yes,” Medeiros said. “Has everything been able to be resolved that has happened? No.”

“At the same time,” he continued, “the sentiment that we haven’t done anything just doesn’t bear out to how the three of us are living our day to day experience.” 

In their April letter, however, students criticized the district’s response, continuing to argue that consequences for those acting out haven’t gone far enough.

“Accountability at the administrative level of Hudson High School has diminished tremendously over the past 3 years,” the student letter noted in its opening line.

“Making an announcement over the PA system and giving a speech isn’t going to change the disrespectful actions, or words that students use to destroy the school and our school culture,” the letter continued. “Accountability is a necessity.”

The letter was signed by 201 HHS students.

Students wrote that “administration dismisses and creates excuses for students’ negative behavior,” acknowledging challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but arguing that these should not be used to “justify students’ actions around the school.”

“Ignoring horrific behavior is the reason why problems around the school continue to escalate,” students wrote. 

Superintendent responds to letter

Both Medeiros and Rodrigues responded to the students’ letter during the School Committee meeting.

Rodrigues said he had heard comments from staff and students, but noted instances where administrators are not able to share details on discipline. 

The uptick and complexity of discipline cases, likewise, has burdened systems normally tasked with investigating discipline cases, according to Rodrigues.

“It’s not acceptable to our standards either,” Rodrigues said of the problems. “But we are privy to information that the public is not.”

Rodrigues then voiced concerns about “the level of impatience” in how school community members interact with administrators.

“Everybody has a need, everybody has a priority, and they are the three that need to take care of everything, every day,” he said, referencing Medeiros, and vice principals Dan McAnespie and Adam Goldberg.

Rodrigues emphasized that administrators do not “dismiss the fact that we had some challenging times behaviorally.”

He also, though, noted changes to student discipline laws made roughly a decade ago that introduced more nuanced standards in determining discipline.

He then called for more relationship building between students and staff, naming “the lack of the relationships across the board” as “one of the contributors” to current issues.

“Every adult who works inside of Hudson High needs to be part of the solution,” he said. “If you cannot be part of the solution, say so. If you refuse to be part of the solution, tell us again, we will find a way of communicating that. But, to criticize, over and over again and not be part of the solution, that is what is my biggest issue.” 

Rodrigues concluded his comments by looking to the future, saying he hoped that HHS will finish its year strong.

“We will continue to work together as administrators and hopefully get more and more contribution from every staff member being able to be part of the solution,” he said. 

Unions respond

The Hudson Education Association, the Hudson Paraprofessional Association and the Hudson Secretaries Association responded to this on Thursday in their statement.

We are compelled to respond to and refute his disparaging and inaccurate accusations,” the unions’ statement said of Rodrigues, in part.

In addition to their response to staff being behind the writing of the letter, the unions noted outreach to administrators.

“The staff has at multiple points throughout the school year initiated collaboration with administration–in addition to acting as primary implementers of progressive discipline–to help work on the discipline issues that have arisen this year,” the unions said. “We have worked tirelessly to cultivate and build relationships with students.” 

“We see our students,” the statement continued. “We hear our students. We respond to their needs.”

A copy of the student-penned letter discussed at this week’s School Committee meeting is available through the School Committee’s packet: https://hudson.k12.ma.us/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=26283613

A recording of this week’s School Committee meeting is available online at https://livestream.com/accounts/1289376/events/10076566/videos/231328547

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