‘It’s vital’: Former security officer, RCSD teacher talk having SSOs in schools

RCSD

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROCO) — A former school security officer is speaking out after reports of violence at Rochester City schools. 

John Montante says he worked a school security officer in the district for 7 years, but when schools went remote during the pandemic, he was out of a job. 

Reflecting on his time, Montante told News 8 while he often loved his job, he saw violence and aggression get worse among students over the years. 

In January of 2020, Montante said he was outside the cafeteria at Franklin High School, working as a school resource officer, when he felt someone from behind.

“This kid all of a sudden just hit me from the back, just out of the blue,” Montante said. 

He said he ended up having to go to the hospital to have his hip replaced. 

“I couldn’t even I couldn’t even stand up,” Montante said. “it’s healed up as best as it could, you know, but I’m always gonna feel a pain. I’ll have to feel that the rest of my life.”

But despite some aggression or incidents of violence, Montante said he enjoyed his job and currently works as a school bus driver. However, he says things have seemed to get worse over the years. 

“It’s terrible. You know these children feel that there’s nothing can be done to them because they’re just kids, and there’s only so much we could do,” he said. “It makes it tough for everybody, you know? It disrupts the children who want to learn, and there are a lot of ones who want to learn.”

One reason he says having SSOs are important in schools, especially during the ongoing pandemic. 

Maureen Doohan, a teacher at School 34, agrees. She said she thinks it’s “vital” for every grade level that SSOs are in schools right now.

“We teach the kids from square one what acceptable, unacceptable behavior is and I also feel like if we have the security officers at the lower grades, then we have that opportunity to create positive images of them being in the schools to help do that,” she said. 

Doohan adds SSOs can provide additional support not only for students, but also staff.  

“We have kids who are runners, who will leave the building, who will run around the building. Their vital with the mess that we still have at dismissal time, with helping keep things orderly and safe with that. And honestly, they’re a resource for the adults as well, to even say, ‘can you come cover my class while I take care of something else?,” Doohan said. “Our staff are human too and we need to be taking care of our own mental health as well and they help with that as well.”

However, she said she also believes there needs to be more emphasis on training for these officers.

“A lot of the security officers are saying that they have not received proper training to deal with a lot of the issues. And the district is pushing restorative practices, yet they haven’t trained all school security officers at that, and I think that that would be a place where it would be essential for them to receive proper training,” Doohan said. 

She added the need for SSOs is even greater due the past 18 months of the pandemic, which has been especially difficult for students. 

“Kids are getting frustrated. We had two 4th graders who were crying because they had to do an academic writing activity yesterday and they couldn’t even, like some of them can’t even write their own names. It’s insane,” Doohan said. 

She adds that when kids do get frustrated, SSOs are sometimes the ones who help comfort them.  

“We have our security officer here, he does like just talking to the kids and when they’re getting in trouble in class kind of taking them for a walk down the hallway to have, you know, just kind of that check in and how are we doing? Because teachers can’t always do that because we can’t leave a class of 23 kids to sit down and talk to one kid and really meet their needs individually,” Doohan said. 

She added she doesn’t know what the answer is to addressing the violence and issues at local schools but “having less adults in the schools to help these kids out is not going to be the answer at all, no matter who the adults are.”

Superintendent Lesli-Myers Small is expected to be addressing the violence at schools at a board of education meeting Thursday night. 

Just this week, an Edison Tech student was shot walking to the bus stop. He has been released from the hospital. 

A student was also allegedly attacked by others at the School of Arts on Wednesday. She was sent to the hospital and has been released. 

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