Buffalo school officials are seeking ways to counter a recent series of violent incidents in city schools but conceded Wednesday evening that they have no immediate answers.
"It's a scary time in our community as far as safety is concerned," Yvonne Hargrave, the interim superintendent, said at a meeting of the Board of Education where several teachers made the case of re-establishing alternative high schools.
"It's a different time. We will address these things and try to figure out a way," said Hargrave adding that the issue will be addressed soon in meetings with district unions and community organizations and at a board committee meeting Tuesday.
Three Lafayette High School teachers and the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation called for reinstituting alternative high schools, where violent students receive individual and small group assistance until they are ready to behave properly at their previous schools.
A network of Buffalo alternative schools has been gutted in recent years due to policy changes and budget shortfalls.
Flora Osmani, a Lafayette teacher, said violent students are now suspended, then returned to their original schools after "a five-day vacation" that includes no counseling or anger management.
That pattern is a disservice not only to disruptive students, but to the "silent majority" of students who behave and want to learn. "The inherent right to be safe and feel safe is denied to those students daily," Osmani said.
Linda Neri, a teacher for 30 years, said that system allows violent students to return to the same school as "a symbol of the anti-hero," and sends the message to classmates that there is no real consequence for unruly behavior.
"We can't just suspend students because that does no good," said Philip Rumore, BTF president. "We have to remove them from the other kids and get them the help they need."
More than 20 other teachers and supporters stood silently in support as the Lafayette teachers and Rumore addressed the board. "I'm in total agreement with the teachers who are here tonight," said Jack Coyle, the board's Park District representative. "We have a circular system that rewards the (disruptive) students and does nothing to solve the problems that got them in trouble in the first place."
A Lafayette teacher was injured last month when a student threw a garbage can at her. The very next school day, another Lafayette teacher was hurt more seriously while breaking up a fight between two girls, one of whom was just back from a suspension. Several other violent incidents have broken out at other city schools more recently.
"This is definitely a crisis," said Ralph Hernandez, the board's West District member. "We cannot allow bullies to be hanging around our schools."
Hargrave said violent students are already arrested, and that additional measures will have to take into account a series of state regulations. "There are new laws," she said.
"When a student is suspended in New York State, that is considered the punishment. We don't have any throwaway kids. We want to rescue all of them to the best of our ability."