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SAFETY FIRST
STUDENTS WHO COMMIT ACTS OF VIOLENCE NEED TO BE REMOVED FROM BUILDINGS

It should go without saying that schools are supposed to offer a safe environment for students and teachers -- every day. But too often in Buffalo a few violent students turn schools into battlegrounds as they fight with their peers, teachers and staff.

It's a troubling scenario, and one that school officials need to take more seriously. Violent students need to be separated from the vast majority of their peers. Period. By all means, if the resources are available, provide counseling and anger management sessions. But the primary concern needs to be squarely on safety for teachers and the vast majority of students who deserve a secure environment for teaching and learning. If that means keeping violent kids out of school buildings, that's what needs to happen.

While student violence is not an everyday occurrence, neither is it rare. A Lafayette teacher was injured last month when a student threw a garbage can at her. The next day, another Lafayette teacher was injured more seriously while breaking up a fight between two girls, one of whom had just returned from a suspension. During a two-week period last month, 11 Buffalo students were charged with assault. Even more troubling is the report by Buffalo News reporter Peter Simon that some officials said violence appears to be on the rise in city schools.

It's no wonder three Lafayette High School teachers and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore are calling for reinstating alternative high schools, where violent students get individual and small-group assistance. Moreover, those students need to be kept there until they are ready to return to their previous schools. It may not be a perfect solution, but it takes problem students out of the general school population so that the majority of students can go about their business.

District officials dispute the effectiveness of alternative high schools, based on past experience. The district now employs opportunity centers to address problem students. These students are sent to one of the centers for an indefinite period. Students receive instruction and counseling. Officials want to see an increase in trained staff at the centers and more seats than the 120 now available.

Officials now say that students involved in violent behavior won't return to regular classrooms until they are ready. That's good to hear, but one wonders why that hasn't been the policy all along.

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