The most pressing safety issue to parents, school personnel and the community is the need for security officers at all 44 elementary schools in Buffalo. Surprisingly, there are none. In contrast, the 11 Buffalo high schools are each staffed with two security officers; some have three.
Officials in the Buffalo Public Schools attempt to justify the absence of security officers in elementary schools by shabbily explaining that a low rate of student violence does not warrant or permit the placement of security officers.
Consider these budget figures: It would cost the district approximately $1.2 million in additional funding to place a security officer in every elementary school, increasing its almost $900 million budget by less than one-third of 1 percent and making a significant security improvement to all elementary units. As an added benefit, security officers could provide assistance to the principal and monitor visitors entering school buildings. It makes very good sense to me.
In the swirling mists of hotly debated issues like closing longtime neighborhood schools and complying with the demands of Common Core standards and testing, the most important aspect of education has been woefully missed or even ignored by the Board of Education and leadership of the Buffalo Public Schools: the safety and security of small children and adolescents.
Recent audits by state representatives have discovered that disturbing behavioral incidents within one of the high schools were incorrectly recorded for the documentation process in place, lessening the reportable incidents to officials; in effect, principals statewide were coached by state-hired consultants on finding creative ways to significantly reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions.
One former high school principal took matters into his own hands, and was quoted by staff members saying with insensitivity, “No blood, no suspensions!” That attitude is awful, and wrong, because it puts students, teachers and administrators in harm’s way, at risk of suffering serious bodily injuries in school environments.
No unofficial, anti-suspension benchmark imposed by state education bureaucrats ever achieves a positive outcome in schools because there is no fix-it-all solution to the perplexing suspension dilemma in the Buffalo schools (and other urban school districts in New York State). High suspension rates are alarming to everyone, as they should be, but safety and security of students must remain paramount, above all, ensuring learning activities in school environments.
At the 44 elementary schools, security issues with students are typically assigned to a code-driven response team, i.e. Code Red, consisting of principals, physical education and physically larger teachers, counselors and even social workers who quickly converge, properly restrain and calmly de-escalate disruptive, violent and behavioral outbursts in the junior high area (seventh- and eighth-grade students).
Most Buffalo teachers acknowledge that seventh- and eighth-grade students are just as violent and turbulent as their high school counterparts – and some argue they are more reactive and worse behaviorally – yet there still are no security officers in sight in those elementary buildings.
Calling police for help and support is usually futile because the need is dire, requiring an immediate response, and the only immediate response to be accessed must come from on-site school personnel. The over-reliance on school personnel is fundamentally wrong and is a dangerous, district-wide practice.
What exactly is happening in the Buffalo Public Schools? The district continues to rely on and burden school personnel to resolve violent incidents. Caring school personnel rise to the occasion and quell the conflicts, usually without injuries and without any appreciation. But in the most severe cases, when violent incidents ensue and we teachers need help the most, no security is there. It is wrong and frustrating.
Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, agrees that the elementary schools, like the high schools, need security guards present, but he cautions: “I tell teachers not to get involved and ask for help. Breaking up violent conflicts is not their job. Teaching is their job.”
Understandably, the mere presence of security officers in the elementary schools will help resolve most security issues, while deterring violent and behavioral incidents and providing peace of mind within the schools and their surrounding communities. More security is a “win-win” situation for all stakeholders.
Al Bruno has worked as a special education and English teacher for the Buffalo Public Schools for 19 years, primarily serving middle and high school students. He has earned three master’s degrees in education and a bachelor’s degree in communications.