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RCSD: More security guards, not police, inside school buildings to tackle violence

Emily Hunt
for WXXI News

  After several violent incidents in and around Rochester city schools, union leaders from the district requested that Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small consider bringing police back into schools.

The last officers, known as student resource officers, were removed from the district in June 2020.

But the idea of bringing them back into schools was nowhere to be found Thursday night in Myers-Small's outline to improve school safety.

“It is incumbent on the district to ensure we have mechanisms in place to make sure we have safe learning spaces for all,” Myers-Small said.

As previously announced, Rochester Police will be outside middle and high schools for arrivals and dismissals for the next few weeks. Fighting and violent incidents most often happen during those times. 

According to Myers-Small, the district met with city officials, including Mayor Lovely Warren, to figure out what happens in the long term.

A new class of security guards is expected in buildings by the end of the year, and Myers-Small said the district intends to work with restorative justice groups like Pathways to Peace and Roc Restorative to try to stop incidents before they happen.

“We have remote teams that respond to moderate and/or critical incidents at schools: things like fighting and rumors of social media threats, etc.,” said Myers-Small.

The district is also updating its security equipment and investing in social, emotional and mental health support for students and staff.

Violence been a long-term issue for Rochester City schools, their students and families but there has been an uptick in incidents since the majority of students returned to classes hybrid classes in February and March 2020.

As in most cities across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic, violent crime has risen dramatically in the city of Rochester. Multiple commissioners, including board Vice President Cynthia Elliott and Commissioner Beatriz Lebron, argued that the source of the violence is the community, not the schools themselves. Commissioner Ricardo Adams made similar comments last week. 

Lebron mentioned her intention to contact City Council about their efforts to tamp down violence in the city and asked what Warren intends to do about violence in Rochester in her last month in office. 

“They’re (Council) not off the hook on what they have to do to address the violence that’s happening in the community,” Lebron said. “The city of Rochester has to address what’s happening out in these streets that trickles into our schools.” 

On Friday, the district also announced that it has shuffled its leadership. Among the changes: Chief Academic Officer Kathleen Black was promoted to deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, a role held by Genelle Morris, who now slides over to deputy superintendent of operations and system innovation.

Deputy Superintendent of Support Services Melody Martinez-Davis was demoted to principal of John James Audubon School 33, the district’s largest receivership school. Schools that are in receivership are deemed by the New York State Department of Education as persistently struggling in terms of academic performance.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.