She is 51 years old with kind eyes and soft features. She wears comfortable shoes and cotton sweaters. Flora Osmani is what she looks like -- a mom and a teacher. Not a cop or security guard or karate expert.
Yet the Buffalo schools have turned her into all of those things. A system long on caring but short on common sense has put Osmani and hundreds of other teachers in the line of fire. Some of them, along with some of the kids they care about, have been put in the hospital. It will get worse -- unless the people in charge take charge.
Osmani, a biology teacher, does not need more attention than she gets in the classroom. Yet she stands before the School Board and the superintendent and every caring person in this community and says: Enough.
There are hard places and sad stories in parts of this city. Lives end at the point of a knife or the flash of a gun. Kids from these same streets bring the hurt and anger to school.
There reportedly were 70 fights in the city's high schools in two recent weeks. One of Osmani's fellow Lafayette High School teachers was hospitalized with head injuries. She has seen the violence, and has seen enough.
"There have always been fights," said Osmani, a city teacher for 30 years. "The difference now is the intensity, the rage in the eyes of some of these kids."
The rage will explode. The anger will boil over. And when it does, pray you are not nearby.
The kid who can't control himself -- sometimes a huge kid, a boy in a man's body -- is time and again put back in control. After a one-week suspension, or a brief stay in an "opportunity center," the human stick of dynamite walks back into his old school. It is a reminder to every teacher, to every follow-the-rules student, that there is no law and no order.
Osmani is worried less for herself than for kids who come to learn, and get a lesson.
"That's the message they get -- if you're scared, that's your problem," she said. "If the fear stops you from learning, that's your problem. The kids who want to learn are the victims, they're not being protected."
She knows what everyone except the folks with the big desks and big salaries know: The challenge isn't to make the world easy for the few doing the mayhem. It is to make every classroom and cafeteria, every hallway and every bus stop, safe for the kids who want to learn. It is to make school work for the kids who listen, who behave, who care.
Kids can't learn when accidentally stepping on somebody's sneaker, or saying hello to the wrong guy's girlfriend, or a sideways glance at a gang leader gets them hurt. Those kids are the victims. Those kids are the ones whose rights, whose safety, whose futures we most need to protect.
"Just because a kid is from a bad family doesn't mean my kid and your kid has to suffer," said Osmani. "The kids who come to school to work have rights, too. We're permitting a small minority to infringe on them."
There used to be alternative schools for kids who couldn't control themselves. They went there and got the help they needed. They stayed until they could be back with kids who don't solve problems with a fist or a knife. Budget cuts and bad decisions closed the alternative schools. Teachers union head Phil Rumore wants them reopened, to protect teachers and to preserve union jobs.
The district wants to instead beef up its "opportunity centers." It will send out-of-control kids there to get help, some of it from non-union counselors.
This can't devolve into a jobs issue. The district and the union need to work it out, and quick. Before anybody else gets hurt. Before somebody gets killed.