Law enforcement officials are actively investigating allegations of discrimination and harrassment at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, said superintendent and CEO Carise Comstock.
The high school, located on East Third Street, shut down on Feb.16 in the wake of the allegations.
Comstock said the allegations of discrimination and harrassment were presented in a student-generated document that was distributed amongst the school’s community.
Comstock issued a school-wide response message to parents and guardians, stating administrators were made aware of the document on Feb. 15 after it had circulated the evening before.
According to Comstock’s message, students organized a protest on the afternoon of Feb. 15 in acknowledgement of the contents of the student-generated document.
“While the administration was working to investigate the origins of this document and understand its contents, students organized a peaceful sit-in that took place in our first floor hallway during ninth period,” Comstock said in her message to parents and guardians. “Students shared their stories and voices with members of the administration and faculty, and we listened.”
Comstock’s message states that as behavior escalated toward the end of the sit-in, the Bethlehem Police Department was called to help handle the school’s dismissal.
“Students were excused at 3 p.m., and while the Bethlehem Police Department were still on site, additional student conflicts occurred and were handled by the police department,” Comstock said. “They remained on site until approximately 4:15 p.m. to monitor student dismissal.”
Following these conflicts, Comstock said the school shut down on Feb. 16 to properly take the needed steps to address the situation.
On Feb. 18, Mario Acerra, president of the Charter Arts board of directors, sent an additional response to the school’s community addressing the sit-in.
“We have always been certain that our school is one of the most progressive, creative and tolerant schools in the area,” Acerra’s response said. “We are afflicted and distressed to learn that some of our stakeholders, and particularly some of our students, feel that is not their reality, and thus we are committed to attend every allegation until resolved.”
According to Acerra’s response, the school has hired a specialized firm to conduct a thorough and independent investigation.
Normal instruction resumed on Feb. 22 with several additional resources available to students in the wake of the discrimination and harrassment allegations, Acerra’s response said.
These resources included private appointments with a representative from the firm, a diversity consultant, extra counselors on call and additional safety personnel.
Acerra’s response stated that the board of directors will immediately appoint an acting principal to ensure the school can continue operating in an orderly manner throughout the investigation.
Comstock said the Bethlehem Police Department and the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office are both involved in the investigation.
Due to the pending nature of the investigation, Comstock said students and staff are not allowed to comment further on the matter.
“When our students share information with us regarding alleged criminal activity, we report that to the appropriate authorities, such as the local police department and Children and Youth Services,” Comstock said.
She said any report filed in relation to this incident will be fully investigated by police.
“Our highest priority is a return to learning and educating in a safe, accepting and inviting atmosphere while simultaneously conducting all necessary investigations in a professional, unbiased and independent manner,” Acerra said.