Posted on March 19, 2024

How a School That Was Once Called ‘Exemplary’ Crumbled Into One of the Most Troubled in America

Alex Oliveira, New York Post, March 17, 2024

The troubled Massachusetts high school where parents and community members wanted the National Guard to help restore order was labeled “exemplary” by a Harvard University study just 15 years ago — but now families are fleeing in droves.

Parents are opting to homeschool their kids or are moving to other districts rather than let their children face the violence plaguing the campus.

Brockton High School was profiled in “How High Schools Become Exemplary,” a 2009 study which examined how teachers banded together in their free time to reshape the curriculum and turn things around at the school 25 miles south of Boston.

Over about a decade, they developed a system where every educator — including gym teachers, art teachers and guidance counselors — worked to incorporate reading, writing, speaking skills and reasoning into their classes and sessions.

By the end of the process, Brockton went from a school where the unofficial motto was “Students have a right to fail if they want” to one of the highest-performing public schools in the country, according to a 2010 New York Times profile.


The school’s superintendent said the pandemic hit Brockton families hard, but blamed a Massachusetts law that prevents administrators from suspending students from class for the breakdown in discipline.

The situation at Brockton High, which has a student body of 3,600, was already deteriorating four years ago when Kyanna Washington’s daughter Kalani was preparing to go there.

So instead of sending her into the fray, she pulled her daughter out of the public school system and has been educating her herself.


{snip} Brockton has lost nearly 500 students since 2020, a decline in enrollment of about 12% {snip}

Enrollment at public schools across the commonwealth has dropped a much smaller 3.5%.

The number of black students at the school is down 15%, while the white student population is down nearly one-third. The number of Hispanic students, meanwhile, is up 20%.


Even though she isn’t at Brockton High School, Kalani called it “nerve-wracking, very anxiety-inducing” to hear her friends who go there talk about what they see in the halls.

“Premeditated fights,” plotted over social media by beefing students, have resulted in organized “fight clubs” where students brawl on and off campus, she said.

Last year, a student was stabbed outside the school, Kalani said. And friends told her blood left over from fights sometimes remains dried on hallway floors for weeks.


Brockton Schools Superintendent Mike Thomas, who has been on leave this school year following a medical issue, believes the current situation was brought on by a conflation of factors exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and its effect on Brockton’s lower-income families.


But Thomas, who was present throughout the turnaround process featured in the 2009 study, believes the genesis of the current behavior issues began before the pandemic with the passage of Massachusetts’ Chapter 222 student disciplinary law in 2012.

The law was intended to make suspension a last resort for student punishments — but teachers have complained it left them helpless to enforce discipline and that no additional funding was provided to help teachers deal with troublemaking students.


Parents, students and community members have reported that fights in the school have become rampant, while stampedes of students rushing to film the fracas and post it on social media have resulted in injuries as people are swept up and trampled in the fray.

Illicit drug use among students has also been reported, as has sex in empty stairwells and classrooms, and off-campus brawls to settle schoolyard scores.


[Editor’s Note: Brockton High School is 63 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, and 15 percent white.]