Dozens of Harrisburg students suspended over attendance, hundreds more put on notice

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Dozens of students were suspended from Harrisburg High School this week, prompting concerned calls to the ABC27 newsroom from parents and students.

High school and district administrators held an informal news conference Wednesday to answer questions ABC27 raised about the mass suspensions.

They said cutting class has gotten out of hand and this is a wake-up call for both parents and administrators.

“If you’re not in class, all you’re here to do then is to wreak havoc upon the school,” said principal Lisa Love, who started the job at the end of January.

A new principal, a new way to get kids back into class; this is Love’s way to transform the struggling school.

“And a lot of times doing transformational work means that you have to do some radical things to get the attention of parents and the community and students,” she said.

That radical move: suspending about 100 students for a day all at once. All of them, administrators said, missed 35 classes or more in a nine-week period. That adds up to a full week of classes.

“Students are coming to school,” she said, “but they’re not going to classes when they get here.”

That way, they’re able to hide the absences from their parents who send their kids to school every day. School officials said students hide out in bathrooms and empty areas of the school to get out of going to class.

High school staff identified 540 students total who fit the bill of 35 missed classes or more in a matter of weeks. That’s about half of the school’s entire student body.

“Right now, the process is just to weed out where our issues are so that we can properly address them,” assistant principal Keith Edmonds said.

Love and district personnel held a meeting Wednesday afternoon in the high school auditorium for parents of kids identified for their missed classes.

District spokeswoman Kirsten Keys estimated about 100 parents showed up.

Two parents ABC27 talked with on the way out of that meeting said they had no idea their two kids, a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, were cutting class.

They’re glad Love is addressing the problem but said they didn’t agree with the suspensions, that it just meant their kids were missing more class.

The school says the move puts the students on notice. Plus, it lets kids who are in class learn uninterrupted.

As if to illustrate that point, an unplanned fire alarm interrupted the meeting, sending all students, staff, and the journalists covering the news conference out into the parking lot.

Administrators said they would check security footage to see what happened, but a Harrisburg firefighter who responded to the school believed someone pulled a fire alarm.

Love said the suspensions are how they’re sounding their own alarms that kids need to show up.

“And this is probably the eye opener we needed to make that happen,” she said.

Parents at the meeting also wondered why it took until the third marking period to figure out the extent of the problem. Love just started the job a couple months ago and said this is the first step to better accountability.

District and school administrators said if parents think their kid’s suspension was not warranted or if they have documentation to prove the absences were excused, they can contact the school to get it settled.

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