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After teachers were injured, RCSD unions push for school safety measures

James Brown/WXXI News file photo

Five Rochester City School District teachers sought medical help Friday after breaking up a fight between students at Franklin Upper School, according to their union leader. 

On “Connections with Evan Dawson” on Monday, Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said fights like that one, along with gang activity in schools and students carrying weapons are examples of “criminal behavior” that warrant more police involvement in schools. 

“We have never called for routine placement of police in schools,” Urbanski said. “And we don’t plan to. We have asked the board to review our current policy on police in schools.”  

Police known as school resource officers, or SROs, were in city schools for two decades until the Board of Education removed them in June 2020. In the past few weeks, District Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small has said she doesn’t plan on reintroducing police inside schools. She said Sunday that she’ll outline the district’s next steps on making schools safer on Wednesday.

Urbanski said the unions want Myers-Small to consider placing SROs in about six secondary schools and potentially others where these incidents happen. “If you have teachers having to worry, asking for escorts from the schools to the parking lots at the end of the day, then I think it warrants reviewing our policies,” said Urbanski, who noted the unions have made several other requests to improve school security.

Board of Education member Beatriz Lebron, who voted to remove the officers last year, stands by her choice. On Monday’s “Connections” show, she took exception to the term “criminal” to describe the fights and the behavior and said Rochester should address violent behavior in other ways.

“There is so much data around the presence of police and schools and how harmful it is to Black and brown children in particular,” Lebron said.

She cited studies arguing that schools with police in them have higher suspension rates, expulsions, and arrests, particularly among students of color.

“It has been an ongoing issue, because we have not addressed the root causes of issues in our schools and in our community,” Lebron said. 

She said that Franklin Upper has been the epicenter of much of this behavior, adding that it is “on fire and it’s a crisis.”

The unions made another request over the weekend, asking that Myers-Small issue a directive that “any student who engages in violence at school, and causes injury to others, be placed on remote learning and also receive the social, emotional and mental health support that they may need.”

The statement argues that this maneuver would make schools safer for students, teachers and staffers and “protect the right of all other students to learn.”

In a statement released by the district Monday, Myers-Small said that’s a nonstarter and likely illegal. She intends to continue in-person instruction for as many students as possible for as long as possible. 

“In response to your request for me to issue an immediate blanket directive that violates educational law, student privacy rights, and our District’s policies is not an option that I will exercise,” she said in the statement. “Currently, any student that engages in 'violent' behavior is placed on short or long-term suspension as guided by the District’s Code of Conduct. Impacted secondary students that are placed on long-term suspension are assigned to alternative instruction for the duration of the assigned penalty after the hearing. This program is currently designed as an in-person delivery model.”