After 'traumatizing' lockdown for Pittsfield High students, superintendent promises procedural shifts

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PITTSFIELD — Marie Butler said she and another student holed up in a dark band closet during a lockdown last week at Pittsfield High School.

No injuries were reported in the incident, though Butler told School Committee members that the chaotic ordeal was "slightly traumatizing." As officials worked to handle two "agitated" students, the rest of the student body sat in wonder as to what danger they might be in.

"You're right," Superintendent Jason McCandless said. "It's very scary to just not know."

Students brought up the lockdown incident during a student presentation to the committee about the need for more mental health services at Pittsfield High School. McCandless told members of the Peace Jam Club that their requests mirror those of administrators throughout the district.

Peace Jam members and Butler, who serves the committee as a student representative, said last week's lockdown incident highlighted the need for another full-time school adjustment counselor to help students cope with regular traumas.

McCandless said he will work with school leaders to keep students better informed in the event of a lockdown. He declined to be more specific when answering a follow-up question from The Eagle, citing safety concerns.

"But I will say the need for real-time, in the moment communication with classrooms so people in the building know exactly what is happening and where — and what the situation actually is and is not is where we are putting on our thinking caps," he told The Eagle in an email.

Peace Jam members presented the results of a survey they conducted at the school. Results of the student-run study show the need for more support from staff when it comes to mental health, they told committee members.

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Some 61 percent of the 120 students surveyed experience mental health issues, said sophomore club member Joe Weinberg. He said 73 percent of students said there is not enough mental health help in the building.

Another student, Madelyn Bronson, said the school nurse reported treating 197 mental health issues over a 190-day period, and "the nurse shouldn't have to deal with these issues."

The presentation was well-done, McCandless said, and it fell in line with requests from staff.

"Your request here tonight is not really that different from the requests of most of the principals," he told students.

Budget requests are under consideration currently, he said during the meeting, noting an expected increase for city schools in the governor's budget.

Butler said she was pleased to see her peers present their findings.

"It is timely to the current events that are going on in our schools," she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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