Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams vowed Wednesday to overhaul the system's approach to discipline problems and end the long-standing practice of suspending students out of school for minor infractions.
The announcement was prompted by the killing of Lafayette High School freshman Jawaan Daniels on Friday, an hour after he was suspended for wandering the halls.
Williams said instead of suspending students out of school, the city should keep students in school and provide on-site instruction, rather than sending teachers to the students' homes, as the system now does.
He promised to have some reforms in place by the time school resumes in September but said he needs community input to craft an effective solution.
"We have to figure out a way to keep our children in school and make good choices in their lives," he said during a news conference in City Hall. "I don't have the answers, folks, today. I won't have the answers tomorrow. I need help to figure this out."
Meanwhile, Buffalo police say they are closer to catching the person who killed Jawaan.
A long-standing quarrel between him and another young man led to the shooting, a police source said.
"It was retaliation, something that had occurred last year," the police investigator close to the case said Wednesday.
Authorities say they expect to make an arrest in the shooting that has raised concern over why Jawaan was released at about 12:30 p.m. from Lafayette.
In the past few days, Buffalo's parent group stepped up its criticism of the city's suspension policy. Several parents said Jawaan's death might have been prevented, had he not been sent out of school in the middle of the day.
Since November, the District Parent Coordinating Council has been urging administrators to revamp its suspension practices, calling them "archaic and punitive." Parents say suspension is used excessively throughout the city as a response to student misbehavior.
In March, for example, nearly 30 percent of the students at the Riverside Institute of Technology were suspended for at least one day. That same month, 20 percent of South Park High School's students had suspensions.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon on the steps of City Hall, representatives from the parent group outlined reforms they want the schools to make, including eliminating out-of-school suspensions for nonviolent offenses, involving social workers in student discipline situations and establishing standard consequences across the city for common infractions.
"We cannot wait for someone else to die before we come up with a solution," said Samuel L. Radford III, the group's vice president.
Later, during his own news conference, Williams agreed with much of what Radford said.
"Some of the things we're suspending kids for are not suspendable issues," the superintendent said.
One example: wandering the halls. Williams said students will no longer be suspended for the offense that led to Jawaan's early release from school.
He also said that the $2 million to $3 million Buffalo spends each year on home instruction for suspended students should be reallocated to provide instruction to students at school.
Williams painted suspension as a national problem, framing it as one element in a web of problems facing urban youth, particularly African-American males. He decried the availability of guns on the street and the toll they take on Buffalo's young people. Since he came to the city five years ago, Williams has been to the funerals of 13 students, he said.
Witnesses to the shooting of Jawaan Daniels at the Metro Bus stop at Grant Street and West Delavan Avenue have told police the gunman shot him twice in the stomach and fled on a bicycle.
In defending the school system and its suspension policy, a police investigator said school officials are being unfairly criticized for releasing Jawaan and at least two other students also were suspended for wandering the halls.
"It wasn't the school's fault. This quarrel went back to last September. It's a travesty to blame the school. What is the school going to do, provide a cab for everyone who gets suspended or call in a school bus driver? The district would go broke," the investigator said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
School officials say the assistant principal spoke with Jawaan's mother, who was unable to come to the West Side school and take him home because she had younger children in her care. Jawaan resided on the East Side.
"His mother gave clearance and details were worked out for him to leave the school and go to a location," said Elena Cala, system spokeswoman. "This arrangement is not unusual at the high school level."
Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards said investigators are making progress in catching Jawaan's killer.
"However, we're still looking for people with knowledge of the facts to come forward," Richards said.
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