PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – City officials say they’re alarmed by a recent spate of violence across three Providence middle schools that has led to the arrest of 12 children over the last two weeks.
Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements and interim Supt. Chris Maher said Wednesday they’re working together to calm tension among a small, but “well-organized,” group of students at DelSesto Middle School, Roger Williams Middle School and Gilbert Stuart Middle School.
“There is a level of sophistication in coordination and organization,” Maher told WPRI.com. “And that’s what has raised the flag for us.”
Clements said the city has seen a “flurry of activity” from the schools that started in late November and has quickly escalated, thanks in part to social media posts.
The matter came to a head last week when 10 students were arrested following a melee inside DelSesto Middle School.
Police responded to the Springfield Street around 8 a.m. on Dec. 8 for a report of a “big fight” that “erupted in a hallway of the school,” according to an incident report obtained by WPRI.com. The report states that the fight caused “mass chaos” in the school, but teachers and administrators were able to break it up before officers arrived.
Three students were initially arrested and seven more were taken into custody when another fight broke out on the second floor of the school, according to the report.
“We’re treating it as a serious problem,” Clements said. “When 10 young people are arrested in a middle school, it is an issue. It is on our radar.”
The incident report also noted that police “have been paying special attention” to DelSesto Middle School and that students waited for law enforcement to leave the area before they started to fight.
On Monday, police responded to Roger Williams Middle School on Thurbers Avenue for a report of students carrying knives and baseball bats shortly before 3 p.m., according to an incident report.
Three students told police they were attacked with baseball bats by middle school students associated with a gang “that has been involved in numerous fights at schools and throughout the neighborhoods for the past several months,” the report states.
Two juveniles were charged with possession of a prohibited weapon for carrying knives.
Neither Clements nor Maher said they know exactly what has prompted the uptick in violent incidents at the schools, but both said it has been fueled by social media posts. The two said the incidents have centered around roughly 10 students, but each agreed that there are several other children who have become involved in the situation.
Following the incident at DelSesto, school department officials met with Clements and several community leaders to discuss ways to curb the violence. Maher said he is focused on “raising awareness” among parents to be vigilant about actions their children are taking or habits they’re forming.
Over the long term, Maher said, the city needs to invest in “social emotional learning and restorative justice practices” to calm students down. He said he wants to work with outside community groups because teachers and administrators should not be asked to take on those responsibilities without more support from the city.
Timing may be on the city’s side. Students will leave for a two-week school vacation Friday, which officials say could provide a cooling-off period for all parties involved in the conflict.
Mayor Jorge Elorza also met with school board members and school officials Wednesday for a briefing on the issue and has asked the school department to craft an action plan for what it plans to do when students return to school.
“I think we’re addressing it in a proper manner, a positive manner,” Clements said.