For each person who wanted more discipline, there were those who worried about stigmatizing problem students. For each person who said staff was inconsistent in how it doled out punishment, there were those who said staff don’t have the leeway needed to intervene when fights develop. And for each person who bemoaned the lack of safety, there were those who said their school isn’t as lawless as its been portrayed.
Less than a week after a student brawl left 10 staff members injured and led to four student arrests at Cheltenham High School, residents of the Cheltenham School District just north of Philadelphia gathered to air grievances and rally support. The opinions were as numerous as the attendees.
Before a packed high school auditorium — and over more than four hours of testimony — they held forth on topics as diverse as school safety, the treatment of black students, property taxes, mentoring, and academic tracking.
It all led back to a Wednesday melee that lit up the internet and put this small suburban community in an uncomfortable spotlight.
Though the tone was mostly civil, the length and passion of Monday night’s meeting spoke to just how deeply the student fight has wounded Cheltenham.
"I’m seeing things on the news and when I look at it I say this looks like Philadelphia School District," said parent Tiffany Clark, who said she attended high school in Philadelphia. "And I do not pay mortgage and taxes to put my child in that kind of danger."
Several speakers Monday said they were drawn to Cheltenham because of the school system’s stellar reputation. Almost as many said they were now questioning that reputation in the aftermath of the fight.