By JAMES BROWN, WXXI
Days after leaders from four Rochester City School unions asked the district to address growing security concerns – including an incident when someone fired a gun outside All City High — residents spoke out at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
One of the unions’ requests was to end the ban of school resource officers, but resident Carly Fox said she doesn’t trust Rochester Police around schools.
“I believe that entering into a contractual agreement with RPD is not a good idea,” Fox said. “I say that as a parent, as an alumni and an aspiring teacher.”
Another resident said bringing police back won’t change things.
“There is all sorts of data, because we all like to be data-driven, that demonstrates that police in schools do not make students safer,” Victoria Robinson said.
Eammon Scanlon with the Children’s Agenda agreed, citing extensive research.
“Police in schools do not make them safer,” Scanlon said. “There’s no conclusive evidence of this from multiple studies, but what multiple studies do show is that students of color are disproportionately arrested when there is a presence of police officers and suspensions are higher.”
But that’s not all the unions asked for. Two of the 11 requests from the Rochester Teachers Association, Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals, the Association of Administrators and Supervisors of Rochester and Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees include the Rochester Police Department.
The unions sent a letter asking the district to “revisit the need” for school resource officers in schools “ASAP.” In June, the district banned those officers, who work for the Rochester Police Department but were stationed in school buildings. Before the ban, there were 12 in the district, which has roughly 25,000 students.
The letter also includes a request that the district work with Rochester Police to address gang activities at some schools and to have police on site at all high school dismissal times. That last request is already happening in part.
“We try to be there for as many schools as possible, but obviously there are only so many Officers available; as compared to the number of schools,” RPD Public Information Officer Carlos Alvarado said in an email. “We are dedicated to school safety for the children and staff, so we strive to be there as often (and as many) as possible. This includes arrival and dismissal.”
On Wednesday, the district and the City of Rochester released a joint statement saying they’ve agreed to provide a presense outside the district’s 11 secondary schools at the city’s expense for next week and a half. The Board of Education will consider extending the agreement through November 19th and picking up the tab.
“Prior to Friday, November 19, City and RCSD officials will continue to meet and develop a plan to utilize additional resources, including the City’s Pathways to Peace program, Person in Crisis Teams and Office of Neighborhood Safety among others, to provide near and mid-term support and services to students in crisis. This plan will be presented to both the Rochester City Council and the Rochester City School District for their consideration.”
“While we believe these actions will help address the immediate challenges facing RCSD students, teachers and staff, we also agree with many in the community that the systemic challenges of poverty, trauma and racism, among others, need to be ultimately addressed to ensure the long-term wellbeing of our students, teachers, staff and the entire community.”
Other requests in the letter include more non-police school safety officers, more social emotional support for students, smaller class sizes, and a tighter grip on social distancing and masking protocols. It also calls for separate evening sessions for chronically disruptive students, which Board Commissioner Ricardo Adams objected to in the board meeting.
“You might think these students are like you were, but these students are fearless,” Adams said. “Changing their behavior is going to come through education and restorative type stuff, not separating them.”
RTA President Adam Urbanski said the motivation for the letter is the spate of violence around city schools over the last year.
Last week, the district told students and staff at NorthSTAR Social and Emotional Learning Center that they’re going remote for at least a month. Urbanski said it’s because of a mix of violence in the building and staffing shortages. A letter sent to parents said they intend to reopen before Thanksgiving.
An East High School football game was postponed a day last week because of an assault on a student and Urbanski cited an incident at All City High last Wednesday when someone opened fire at several students. Urbanski said no one was hit by the bullets, but he’s concerned that next time they won’t miss.
“We’ve had evidence of an increase in gang presence and activity at several schools and we’ve had the presence of weapons and we’ve had teachers that are afraid to go back to their car at the end of the school day,” he said.
According to Urbanski, Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small asked if the unions would form a committee on the topic, but he worries that’s the wrong approach.
“I hold my breath that I don’t get news of someone getting hurt or worse, someone getting killed in our schools,” Urbanski said. “And in my long tenure, I’ve noticed a pattern: When you have concerns about safety, real concerns, documented concerns, the authorities tend to fail to act until there is a tragedy and then everybody acts and we are trying to get ahead of that curve.”
Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small responded to the unions’ requests with a statement.
“The safety and security of our students and staff are a top priority. I have been addressing the issue of violence and how it affects our students since early this year. Our schools are impacted directly and indirectly, and it is incumbent on our District to ensure mechanisms are in place to provide a safe learning space for all.”
The statement said she keeps regular communication with the board of education when incidents occur in schools. After a meeting with union leaders Monday, Myers-Small claimed they are working in partnership to find solutions together.
“Our children are hurting, and far too many of them experience trauma every day,” continued Myers-Small. “We all need to check in and connect with them, as we know that COVID-19 continues to impact their lives.”
The Children’s Agenda advocates for effective policies and drives evidenced-based solutions for the health, education and success of children. We are especially committed to children who are vulnerable because of poverty, racism, health inequities and trauma.