Dozens of Henley Middle School students took to the halls in protest earlier this month after a recess period was cut from the school day.
Roughly 30 of the western Albemarle County school’s 780 students participated in the April 19 protest, which resulted in nearly every participant getting sent home early, according to Albemarle County Public Schools.
“[They] ran through the hallways, shouting their unhappiness over not having two recess periods,” school division spokesman Phil Giaramita told The Daily Progress. “They ignored teachers and administrators entreaties to cease their activities, which were disruptive to students in class. The students ignored these requests.”
Giaramita said the parents of every child participating was contacted to immediately pick up their child from school that day.
“All but two parents did so, telling the principal that they would talk with their child about their behavior,” he said. “All apologized on behalf of their child.”
Although parents had reached out to The Daily Progress over concerns that the 30-some protesting preteens would face a mass suspension, the school division said that none of the students involved have been suspended.
Parents who spoke with The Daily Progress said there were apologies all around and that the school division and Henley had handled the matter appropriately.
However, they also said that the students were merited in their discontent.
According to Giaramita, “Prior to this year, the school actually had two recess periods. One of these periods was converted this year, dating back to August, to an instructional enrichment time. In addition to the one recess period that now exists, students also have a 45-minute period each day that they can use to participate in clubs, recreational activities inside or outdoors, mindfulness sessions or simply to relax.”
Parents acknowledged that other Albemarle County schools have similarly given up recesses.
But parents say the 20-minute recess period that was cut this year at Henley did not leave students with a single remaining recess but rather a lunch break.
Moreover, the slots available for students to participate in the clubs and recreational activities Giaramita noted fill up fast, they said, leaving many students to sit inside and study.
Schools in the Charlottesville area, including surrounding Albemarle County, have seen multiple reported instances of misconduct and unrest in recent months.
The reports have run the gamut: vaping in bathrooms, public brawls, even sexual assault.
Parents have told The Daily Progress that at least one incident of sexual assault occurred at Albemarle High in October and involved the school’s junior varsity football team. While the school division has acknowledged an “incident” occurred, it has never identified it as sexual assault.
A brawl at Charlottesville High School in January which involved dozens of students in the school’s main lobby prompted the school’s principal to appeal to parents for help and made it into the remarks at Bellamy Brown’s campaign launch as he announced his bid for the General Assembly’s 54th District seat.
“We all need to work together with law enforcement, with principals and teachers and other community leaders to really solve these challenges,” Brown, a Democrat and a former member of the city’s Police Civilian Oversight Board, said at the time. “My priority … is the safety of our students and teachers and supporting and strengthening our public schools.”
Albemarle County is preparing to reintroduce school resource officers, which were removed from both Charlottesville and Albemarle schools in 2020. School officials at the time cited their ineffectiveness and incidents of discrimination in their decisions.
Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Matthew Haas, who made the proposal to reintroduce an officer in Albemarle County, has faced pushback from some parents who still believe police officers have no place in public schools.
He has maintained, however, that any officer working within the Albemarle school division would function differently than officers at other schools or how they have functioned in the past.
“They do not act as administrators or disciplinaries in school,” Haas previously told The Daily Progress.