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Editorial

Letter to the Editor: Argosy Collegiate Charter School responds to bullying complaint

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Recently, a complaint was filed to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by a parent of one of our scholars accusing Argosy Collegiate Charter School (ACCS) of not responding to a bullying complaint she filed with us. While we are bound to confidentiality and cannot respond to the specific case or circumstances, we want to be fully transparent with the public, as we have been with the parties involved, that ACCS responded appropriately, professionally, and in a timely manner.

DESE investigated the complaint and on Wednesday, December 29, released a statement indicating that “no violation of education law, regulation or policy has occurred regarding the specific concern(s) raised. The Department has closed this complaint as of December 29, 2021.”

We wanted to take this opportunity to inform the community about our policies, procedures and responses guided by our Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan and Policy (BPIP). Every school in Massachusetts is given the responsibility to create a safe and healthy environment to support the rights of our children to learn by implementing the BPIP.

● ACCS’s BPIP has been formalized, submitted to DESE, and is also published in our Scholar Handbook which is distributed throughout our community and available on our website in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
● Staff participates in meaningful professional development, which includes our BPIP along with other important policies. This annual training is state mandated but more importantly, is a fundamental best practice for our staff.
● If a scholar, staff member, or parent observes bullying or is experiencing bullying, it is critically important that the observer reports it immediately to a staff member so that an investigation can be opened and thoroughly completed. Reports can be made in person, by phone, emailed or written to a staff member.

ACCS is committed to a safe learning environment for all scholars. One of the primary reasons we opened ACCS was to create a small school environment so scholars can develop meaningful and healthy relationships with their peers and staff. This is a critical element to our program that we think gives scholars an important advantage in an educational landscape in which middle and high school students are packed into buildings that are overpopulated, and concerns may not be reported or addressed.

On each of our two campuses, we employ an incredible team of educators and support staff.

● Each campus also has an Assistant Principal
○ To facilitate, participate and guide behavioral and academic supports.
○ Assistant Principals work with staff, scholars, and parents/caregivers on multiple levels of support.
● Each campus has a Dean Team, which consists of a
○ Dean of Students and an Assistant Dean of Students.
■ Our Dean Teams work to ensure that our D.R.E.A.M Values are upheld. Our D.R.E.A.M Values stand for Determination, Respect, Excellence, Altruism and Maturity. These character skills are critically important to success in all aspects of life and are the foundation upon which academic achievement can be built. The D.R.E.A.M Values give us a common language to build a culture of respect and integrity so that everyone is valued and bullying can be prevented. Our scholars are taught that treating others with respect is always the best choice. However, if bullying occurs, appropriate and fair consequences will follow. While good policies, thorough investigative processes, and appropriate consequences are in place, they are not always enough.

● Additionally, the role of the School Adjustment Counselor (SAC) is also critically important to address the social-emotional needs of our scholars. The social-emotional impact of the pandemic is a primary concern that all schools are experiencing and why we have invested heavily and quickly to expand our student support staff to respond to the day to day needs of scholars and to promote a healthy, safe and secure learning environment for our community. Our approach must be one that puts the scholars first, and we cannot close our eyes to the needs of those around us:

○ According to the American Association of School Counselors (May 2019), there is a national average of 455 public K-12 students per 1 counselor.
○ If ACCS used that standard, there would be 2 SACs for the entire district of nearly 600 scholars but that is not what we’ve done.
○ By stark contrast, ACCS currently employs 6 SACs
○ ACCS’s student to counselor ratio is less than 100 scholars per 1 counselor (including two counselors specializing in crisis management for nearly 600 scholars.) Where in most other districts, each SAC would have approximately 455 scholars, at ACCS, that caseload is reduced significantly to allow more accessible, high quality, and supported social emotional support.

With this incredible team of support, once an alleged bullying incident is reported:

1. Our Dean Team responds by immediately ensuring the alleged victim is safe and the alleged bully is addressed.
2. Contact with parents or caregivers is made and referrals to a SAC may be made if social emotional support is needed.
3. Once all scholars and staff are considered safe, an immediate investigation of all allegations, including all participants and/or witnesses is launched.
4. Once all of the information is collected and if a bullying incident(s) is substantiated, we discuss steps needed to address the situation.
● A Safety Plan is created to ensure equity and fairness that will include stiff consequences in adherence with our Scholar Handbook.
● It is important to note that investigation outcomes are not made public for confidentiality reasons and to protect those involved.
5. In addition to this policy, ACCS is actively working on contracting with the Fall River Police Department for a School Resource Officer. The purpose of this position is to further ensure the safety of our scholars and staff.

ACCS upholds our responsibilities as a district to protect the rights of our scholars, staff, and parents/caregivers. Our mission is to offer a tuition free public education and to prepare our scholars with the academic foundation and character skills necessary for success in college, career and life.

Our goal is to create an educational environment that is safe, healthy, and positive. We strive everyday to support the highest potential of academic achievement for our scholars. We work towards developing, communicating, and implementing our policies and procedures in a clear, transparent and comprehensive way to promote the safety and well being of our entire community of scholars, staff, and parents/caregivers. We will continue to work diligently towards meeting these goals and look forward to any questions you may have on this or any other topic.

Here are some interesting points about ACCS you may want to know and understand.

● ACCS is a grades 6 to 12, public charter school that is not privately funded or for profit. Funding is the same as any public school except that funding for our school buildings are not financially provided by the state.
● Charter Schools enroll scholars on a lottery basis and do not select students based on grades, attendance or behavior.
● 100% of our Inaugural Scholars who graduated in June of 2021 during the pandemic, were accepted to college or joined the military, and 100% graduated ACCS with tuition-free college credits.
● We also have an Early College/Dual Enrollment Program that provides tuition free college credits to all eligible scholars. Through their hard work, the 2021 inaugural graduating class earned 676 college credits, all tuition free!

If you would like to learn more about our scholars, staff, programs, and policies, please access our website on Facebook or online. We look forward to speaking with anyone interested in learning more about ACCS.

Executive Director, Kristen Pavao

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