RCSD reconsiders police presence in schools after fights and unrest
Eighteen months after triumphantly removing Rochester Police Department officers from its schools, the school district of Rochester City, gripped by student fights, is closing in on establishing a police presence.
Uniformed officers have been stationed in high schools as the buses arrive and fired from this week. Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small met with the Acting Police Chief last week, much to the chagrin of board members who intend to walk away from law enforcement.
In an email to the school board on Saturday, Myers-Small said she was developing “a high-alert safety initiative,” starting with officers in bus loops.
“I know that a police presence is problematic for some commissioners,” she wrote. “However, we are at a point where we really need their help.”
The leaders of the four unions in the district, meanwhile, all signed a letter to Myers-Small urging the district to bring back school resource officers, as the RPD officers assigned to buildings during the school day are known, and to “review and update” the restorative code of conduct adopted in 2016.
The recommendations came in response to a letter Myers-Small sent to unions earlier last week, she said.
“I think the message to the students is, ‘You don’t have to worry about the police. The worst thing that can happen to you is to talk about it in a circle of peace,” said Adam Urbanski. , president of the Rochester Teachers Association. “So we have a problem. And our fear is that the district will be prepared to wait for a tragedy to happen before taking it seriously.”
School board members who fought to remove the policy in the first place strongly contested this framing of the problem.
“You tell me about a situation where the district police actually prevented an act of violence,” said Beatriz LeBron. “They did not prevent [expletive]. “
Time spent in school during the coronavirus pandemic, along with other stressors in the lives of students over the past year and a half, have left some students traumatized, according to district leaders. Gang problems in schools are on the rise.
“We are absolutely, unequivocally, at an unprecedented time,” Myers-Small said. “We knew that students returning to physical attendance would be behaviorally difficult and face the trauma of COVID, ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and frankly Daniel Prude’s situation. We now experience that and understand impact. “
A football game at East High School was postponed Friday due to an incident earlier today where students from another school came to East and assaulted a student from the East. On the same day, a student from the East punched a staff member, according to Myers-Small.
LeBron said she and fellow board member Cynthia Elliott visited Franklin High School on Friday and were trapped.
“There have been brawls in Franklin every day since the start of the school year, sometimes four or five a day,” she said. “I saw the videos.”
NorthSTAR, a small program for students with significant emotional, social and academic challenges, was switched to distance learning this week after struggling for over a month against understaffing and violence in the building.
Removing PBOs Took Years
Rochester Police Department RCSD’s first detour was years in the making and was finalized shortly after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, at a time when school districts across the country had great momentum to end contracts with law enforcement.
Instead, the school board is committed to adding social workers and guidance counselors and training staff in the use of restorative practices. The goal was to avoid directing students to incarceration through the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
Board member Ricardo Adams has been a key advocate for the change and still supports it, but said the district has done a poor job in following up.
“We are supposed to proactively engage with students and we don’t,” he said. “A lot of work has gone into this, and we are panicking and maybe rejecting all of this work.”
Adams said he was strongly opposed to a return engagement with RPD and criticized Myers-Small for meeting with Acting Police Chief David Smith without obtaining board consent. He said the RCSD problem stems largely from RPD failures elsewhere in the community.
“(RPD) doesn’t even handle things here on the streets,” he said. “This has never been a solution for our students.”
Myers-Small said she has yet to decide whether or not to recommend a return to the use of School Resource Officers (SROS); and acknowledged strong opposition from at least some board members.
“Is the only solution to suspend them and not have them in school anymore? No,” she said. “Restorative practices and socio-emotional supports are important.… But we absolutely need to make sure that we have appropriate consequences for students who are disruptive and who do not want to participate in the learning environment.”
Union leaders also made several other suggestions in their October 15 letter, including the creation of an evening school for disruptive students; the addition of school security officers; allow students to choose distance learning; and adding more socio-emotional and academic supports for students.
“We call on the district to immediately implement measures to protect the safety of our students and school staff while providing meaningful alternatives to students who disrupt the educational process and endanger the safety of others,” they said. writing.
The district currently has 15 vacant school safety officer positions, Myers-Small said.
Unions of teachers and principals have opposed the removal of ORS from the city’s schools, warning that it would tie the hands of administrators when students act violently at school.
A working group focused on social justice in RCSD, The Rochester Organization of Rank-and-File Educators (RORE), called on the district on Monday to add more social workers, reduce class sizes and improve food offerings for students. Their letter was also signed by the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group that helped push through the new code of conduct in 2016.
LeBron agreed with Adams that the district has hesitated in implementing restorative practices and called on the superintendent to “think outside the box,” including moving students to avoid overcrowded buildings – she gave Franklin as an example – and by hiring private security guards to stand near the doors. so that school security guards can be inside the buildings.
“We are constantly in this reactive state instead of being proactive,” said LeBron. “We can’t ignore that the kids are going to come back with more mental health issues. The data was already there (before school started).”
Myers-Small will brief the school board on Tuesday evening of potential additional steps, as well as possible ways to fund them.
“Ultimately our children are suffering and some of the behaviors are difficult and disruptive,” she said. “Our community has to literally wrap their arms around our children when they see it and register and connect, because this is a very difficult time for our students.”
Contact editor Justin Murphy at [email protected].