Parents, children’s organizations question RCSD’s plan to address violence at schools

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(News 8 WROC file photo)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Talks between Rochester school and city officials continued on Wednesday to address violence among students at Rochester City schools. 

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, RCSD Board President Van White, and Superintendent Dr. Lesli Myers-Small were among those who met to discuss ways to make the schools safer for students and staff.

Their meeting comes days after four union leaders with the school district wrote a letter suggesting 11 different measures they believe would improve safety. 

In a joint statement, the city and school leaders said, “We had a productive discussion regarding the immediate and systemic actions necessary to ensure safety in Rochester’s schools and believe that should be our top priority. To that end, we agreed to the following:

  • Rochester Police Department providing a presence outside of the RCSD’s eleven (11) secondary schools during the arrival and departure of students for the rest of this week and the first half of next week at the City’s expense. The RCSD School Board will convene to consider authorizing and funding RPD presence for an additional three (3) weeks through Friday, November 19.

However, many parents and local organizations, like The Children’s Agenda, say while they know something needs to change, they don’t want to see officers back at schools.

“There’s a lot of research and policy that shows no positive effects from having police in schools, but there is some to show negative effects,” said Eamonn Scanlon, the Education Policy Director at The Children’s Agenda. 

Scanlon said having officers in schools in the past has led to more arrests and student discipline, especially among students of color. 

“Students being expelled, students being suspended. And we have incident reports from the Rochester City School District that show repeated use of pepper spray on students, students being tackled to the ground. And of course, students being restrained with handcuffs or arrested,” Scanlon said.

Kilolo Moyo-White, a parent of an RCSD student, said officers can be a trigger for students. 

“That symbol and that image in itself is something that is a trigger. It is violating, and all it does is tell to the children that you are the problem, the child is the problem,” Moyo-White said.

“We don’t need to assume criminal intent from 12-year-olds and 14-year-olds,” said Aria Camaione-Lind, a parent in RCSD. “To criminalize any kid just because they go to school in the city, just because of the color of their skin, just because of their zip code…is immoral, unethical, and causes way more harm than any good it’s ever going to do.”

Instead, parents and Children’s Agenda advocates say they want the district to focus more on preventative solutions and providing essential support to students affected by the ongoing pandemic. 

“This pandemic has been terrible for everybody, but particularly, you know, the Rochester community. And so many students have lost loved ones, have suffered financially, have had issues with homelessness, with hunger,” Scanlon said. “There’s a lot of stress and mental, financial, you name it, emotional stress, in this community. And that’s going to lead to kids acting out and having trouble.”

Advocates say they would like to see funds from the district be used to hire more social workers and counselors. 

“We are really traumatizing students by arresting them, by disciplining them. You need consequences for your actions, but ultimately it’s got to be about what’s best for the student, what’s a way to reintegrate them into the school community,” Scanlon said. “Most of that is community building. It’s not just about conflict resolution.”

Part of RCSD and the City’s plan released Wednesday is to work with anti-violence groups to help bring solutions to students. They said prior to November 19th:

  • 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.

Parents say in addition to this, there also needs to be more focus on the systemic issues that can prevent kids from excelling in schools. They say this includes providing more support for students during the on-going pandemic. 

“Students have returned to school with the only thing different is a mask. The system has not changed a bit. Right? They spent how many months without any support and not only those supports not there upon return, they’re less, and the needs are higher,” said MaryBeth Elko, a parent of RCSD student and concerned citizen. “That’s the systemic problem and so then we’re putting it on them as if they’re the violence is them.”

Toyin Anderson, who is also a parent, said she believes the district needs to be more proactive in their approach to helping students. 

“If we had months ago put the things in place, the people, the social worker, invest in our children with the funds that was given to do so and then to quickly sign a contract and throw police officers to police my child, I don’t need to police my child at home. So I don’t need him to be policed in a building. We need to stop it, invest in our children, walk the talk, walk the talk, you want what’s best for my child, invest in him and her the right way,” Anderson said. 

In their joint statement on Wednesday, school officials and city leaders said they believe the new steps they are taking will address “immediate challenges” facing students. However, they also agreed the solution can’t be temporary, saying:

“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.

We will also explore how we can engage in a wider-ranging effort that is sustainable and gives our children the support they need to navigate life’s challenges.”

In the meantime, parents are hoping the district will use some of their funds from the state to better support kids and neighborhoods.

Camaione-Lind said she wants her tax-payer money to go towards prevention and intervention work.

“I want to have an equitable use of funding, so not equal, not everybody gets the same, equitable. So that like the schools that need more resources, get more resources. The schools that have good systems get support to keep building capacity in those systems and share what’s working and what’s not working to other places. I want the district to create a really robust plan to address what we know needs to be addressed,” Camaione-Lind said.

Over the next few weeks, City and RCSD officials will be working on a plan to address safety concerns that will be presented to both the Rochester City Council and the Rochester City School District for their consideration.

Groups like the City’s Pathways to Peace program, Person in Crisis Teams, and Office of Neighborhood Safety, will be part of making this plan.

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