Seacoast Assault Brings Questions On Change to School Expulsion Laws

A violent attack at the Seacoast Academy last week has led to serious charges against three girls and a call by Supt. Paul Dakin for the state to review new regulations that hamper the schools’ ability to expel students.

“It was pure and simply a sneak attack assault that was planned and premeditated,” said Dakin. “This girl knew, her friends knew and they made it happen. It really concerns me it was premeditated like this. It is very disturbing.”

The attack, according to police and to Dakin, was allegedly planned by one girl and her two friends and centered around a fight over a boy. Apparently, the girls had tried to coordinate an attack on the victim the previous weekend outside of school. When that didn’t work out, the three allegedly decided to “get her” during school hours in the hallway.

Revere Police have undergone an investigation of the event, using a high-quality video that hasn’t been seen by the public – unlike a shorter cell phone video shown on several Boston news stations. Police charged one girl last week and announced on Monday they would seek charges against two other girls for a joint venture.

Dakin said that, unfortunately, they cannot do more than suspend the girls from school for five days due to new regulations implemented last September by the State Legislature and the former Patrick Administration. The suspended girls were set to return to school this week, and allegedly further threats have been made to the victim.

The new regulations are meant to protect troubled kids from being expelled in a knee-jerk reaction, but Dakin said the regulations are only serving to make schools less safe.

“I wish the regulations allowed us to do more with suspensions,” Dakin said. “It’s crazy kids can be allowed back in…if the courts don’t hold us up and charges that we filed don’t hold, these kids can come back after the suspension. They don’t care if they’re put out five days and then can come back.”

The new section of the law was put in place July 1, 2014 and began to be enforced when school started last fall. The law seeks to minimize the numbers of expulsions in schools, relying on such things only as a last-ditch effort to be used very limitedly.

“Any principal, headmaster, superintendent or other person acting as a decision-maker at a student meeting or hearing, when deciding the consequences for the student, shall exercise discretion; consider ways to re-engage the student in the learning process; and avoid using expulsion as a consequence until other remedies and consequences have been employed,” reads the new section of the law.

Dakin said the new law also comes with several “hoops” that have to be jumped through. All of it seems to lead, he said, to schools that are less safe because repeat violent actions cannot lead to removal.

“The law is designed to make sure we don’t push kids out and force them out left and right,” he said. “It changes how we would have normally done business with these kids. We will see, and maybe we’re seeing it already at Seacoast, that penalties aren’t as harsh and kids know it. There’s no threat of expulsion or long-term suspension that tended to keep a lot of kids in line. Kids know what we can and cannot do and that makes our schools less safe when there are kids such as these who cannot behave…There are a lot of regulations now in place that protect kids from getting expelled who likely should be expelled for the protection of teaching and learning and maintaining a structured and safe environment.”

Dakin said he hopes that the event can trigger a review of the new law by officials who might recognize that good motives have led to unfortunate outcomes.

“If the Legislature is going to pass this kind of legislation, they need to also provide solutions,” he said. “You don’t want 16 or 17 year olds on the street without diplomas, so if they want to do something, instead of creating another charter school, they should take our money and create schools that can serve these kids…The solution would be having some state school that we could push these kids to and keep our schools safe.”

The facts of the attack, according to Dakin and police, are that the three attackers planned to ambush the girl as she walked down the hall. Two girls stood aside a water fountain in the hallway with their cell phone video cameras at the ready. The attacking girl stood at the water fountain.

When the victim came walking down the hallway, the attacker whipped around and punched the victim squarely in the face and then continued the attack. All of it was captured on cell phone video and on school video.

“The video on TV doesn’t show much,” said Dakin. “We have better video where it shows the punch that put the victim on the ground.”

Dakin said a teacher immediately intervened once hearing the commotion.

The teacher allegedly attempted to hold the attacker, but she pulled away and got her bag and her cell phone and fled the school.

Police and Dakin said they moved yesterday to charge the other two girls because they appeared to be accomplices.

“What we’re doing now because of what we saw yesterday on video is that we will seek charges against the other two girls…They were complicit and they were accessories,” he said. “They knew about it.”

There have been a host of violent incidents and assaults this year at Seacoast, which is something that has been absolutely out of the norm for many years now. Just earlier this month, a 16-year-old was arrested on felony charges after viciously punching a teacher over 60 years old who was trying to break up a fight between students.

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