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Buffalo Schools seeking to start dialogue with students in wake of recent violence

The Buffalo School Board wants to hear from students, families and others about safety concerns at home, school and in their communities in the recent wake of violence across the country and the world.

Schools officials agree that conversations are needed but not all of them see eye-to-eye on how to proceed.

Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold called a work session for Wednesday to start developing the framework for a community forum for future conversations on the impact that recent tragic events – including those in St. Paul, Dallas, Baton Rouge and Nice, France – have on students.

“As educational leaders, we must take a pro-active and timely stance in addressing the trauma evoked by these horrific events,” said Nevergold, adding that some of the board members have had presentations from local college and university professionals, who have identified the enormous impact that trauma has on children and consequently on their educational achievement.

“It is essential for the board to have an open discussion about how we engage students, in particular – other stakeholders down the road. We really want to engage students with conversations with board members as they relate to recent events,” she added. “We want to discuss how we format this, what questions we want to ask.”

Superintendent Kriner Cash is on vacation and did not attend the meeting. However, he requested that the meeting be postponed until his return, giving him time to prepare and direct staff to provide materials, relevant data and an action plan. The board did not act or vote on any item during Wednesday’s informal meeting, which was attended by about 12 people, including Michael Darby and David Elliott, who spoke about a mentoring program in which kids mentor kids.

“Kids are more prone to listen to each other rather than adults,” Elliott said.

At-large Board Member Larry Quinn agreed that Buffalo’s children are deeply affected by the violence. However, the conversations should be approached differently, he said. A better way to find out what’s on students’ minds is to talk with them one-on-one. Kids may be more candid and comfortable to open up in that way rather than in a public forum, he added.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, district staffers presented a brief overview of New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act and the school district’s Code of Conduct – “the two lynchpins we hang our disciplinary code on,” Nevergold said.

Park District Board Member Carl Paladino said the policy needs to be stricter, and Quinn said it does not speak to the day-to-day challenges many kids face.

“These kids need some adults to look out for them, protect them and guide them,” Quinn said. “What they don’t need is a 20-page document in their face.”

As for next steps, Board Member Hope Jay, who represents the North District, said the board should boil down the information that was presented Wednesday to come up with five “salient, priority” agenda items “and then figure out where to go.”

Sharon Belton Cottman, who represents the Ferry District, said the next step is very simple: “Meet with the children.”

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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