WATERVILLE — Mayor Jay Coelho implored the Waterville Board of Education on Monday to do something to keep students safer in schools, saying his daughter was involved in a fight with another student Sept. 13 in a school bathroom, and because she defended herself she was suspended for the rest of that day and received extra demerits.

The fight at Waterville Senior High School, videotaped by another student and posted to social media, shows the incident and a teacher eventually entering the bathroom and shouting, “Hey … knock it off!”

Coelho said students are planning fights in schools and videotaping them. Schools, he said, need to take a hard look at policies and plan for how they can better protect children.

Contacted earlier Monday, Superintendent Eric Haley said he is aware of the case involving Coelho’s daughter and how it was handled, but he is prohibited from talking about it under a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

Each school has procedures for such incidents. The high school’s 96-page 2022-23 handbook devotes a section to fighting and consequences. It says individuals must behave in a manner that ensures safety for everyone.

“Behavior that causes physical harm to students, school staff or visitors while under the jurisdiction of the school will not be tolerated,” it says. “Fighting is strictly prohibited. In order to maintain an environment that is safe for everyone at Waterville Senior High School, students who engage in fighting will be dealt with equally. Fighting will not be tolerated under any conditions. A student who starts a fight will be dealt with strictly. If, however, the non-aggressor returns physical harm to the instigator, he/she may receive the same consequences as the instigator.”


Depending on the severity of the incident, a first or second offense could result in up to a 10-day suspension with a recommendation for further disciplinary action, according to the handbook.

Haley said Tuesday it can be difficult to record instances of fighting because one person may define a fight differently from another. A fight in high school may be a punch being thrown, while in elementary school it could be a child pushing a classmate in the lunch line.

At the high school in the last school year there were nine fights, Haley said. The year before there was one fight and one act of physical aggression, and in the 2019-2020 school year records show there were three fights and two acts of physical aggression. The numbers in the two prior years were similar.

Coelho said Monday the rules do not allow a victim to hit an attacker back to defend oneself. Instead, the person attacked is supposed to reach out for help.

“What happens when you can’t get any (help)?” he asked.

Coelho said he had spent the last four days in a hospital cardiac unit and it was harder for him to get an Advil than it is for a student at Waterville Junior High School to get Adderall or marijuana. Adderall is often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.


“We have all these policies that are zero tolerance — zero this, zero that,” Coelho said. “When you have zero tolerance policies, people fall through the cracks.”

He said students who are repeatedly suspended are allowed back in school, and he asked what schools are going to do to keep kids safe.

“I need some answers that are not financial,” he said. “I need action.”

Board Chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy said student behavior and disciplinary matters are handled on a building-by-building basis.

“I encourage you to work this within the building,” she said.

Coelho said he doesn’t think one administrator in a school should make decisions about what happens to a student who says they want to “off half a school.”


“It’s not fair to the parents, it’s not fair to the teachers,” he said. “You leave them unsafe by a decision from one person.”

But Haley said school principals consult guidance counselors, social workers and others when making such decisions, so it is not just the principal making it.

“Yet it continues,” Coelho said.

Board member Spencer Krigbaum said if such behavior is occurring, something isn’t working and the safety issue Coelho cites should be addressed.

Phillips-Sandy said her preference is that Haley work with administrators to document incidents, track the extent of problems and address them. Board member Greg Bazakas said perhaps the board could get a presentation on trends around such incidents.

Asked before Monday’s meeting if there is a drug problem in schools, Haley said there are drugs at every school at one time or another, involving everything from marijuana to other substances.

“I’m not aware of drugs being sold at schools,” he said.

After Monday’s board meeting, Coelho said the girl who fought with his daughter in the school bathroom was suspended 10 days and is scheduled to return to school Tuesday. Asked if he was satisfied by the response he got from appearing before the board, he said at least the discussion has started.

“They’re talking about it,” he said. “What that does, I have no idea at this point. But I’m not going to stop talking about it.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story