Schenectady parents question district discipline

Thursday, June 25, 2009
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— Some angry parents Wednesday night accused the Schenectady City School District of arresting far more black students than white students.

Colleen Dawson-Williams said her son, a high school student, was clowning around in the hallways about two months ago and the school administrators called the police to arrest him.

Dawson-Williams said the dean of students had called her but her son was already at the police station by the time she got to the school. She said her son was charged with trespassing. Those charges were eventually dismissed, but she said it shouldn’t have happened.

“My son shouldn’t have been incarcerated,” she said at a community meeting at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center on Wednesday evening. The event was organized by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to give parents a chance to ask questions of school officials. About 30 people attended.

In March, ACORN sent a letter to Superintendent Eric Ely seeking to give input on how to improve the schools in the wake of four suicides of Schenectady High School students this academic year. ACORN officials believe that this problem was part of a larger issue of teens in distress.

Dawson-Williams said black students are being arrested in high numbers. “What do you think that does to your morale, their self-esteem?”

She said she would like the attorney general’s office to investigate this matter.

Deborah Rembert also said she believes there is a double standard.

“These African-American kids, if they just breathe hard, they’re going straight to jail, directly to jail without any questions,” she said.

Ely said he did not have any statistics on the number of arrests readily available but he would look into the issue. He stressed that the schools do not arrest anybody: That’s the police’s job. Sometimes, he said, there are situations where police have to be called.

“If a child is out of control and we can’t control the situation, we’ll call the police to respond,” he said.

“Whatever happened to calling the parent first?” shouted another audience member.

Others suggested that counselors should talk to these children before calling law enforcement.

“In many cases, they won’t listen to anybody,” Ely calmly responded.

Ely said he agreed that enforcement of rules at the high school can be inconsistent. For example, some teachers do not have an issue with students wearing hats in class, but others consider it a major problem.

If police are called, the officers make the decision about whether a student broke the law. School officials and students will be interviewed as witnesses.

“You’re sugarcoating it!” Dawson-Williams yelled. She and Rembert stormed out of the room shortly thereafter.

Portia Alston said she hears that gangs at the high school are feuding with one another. Also, some students are harassed and bullied and respond in retaliation. However, only those students who fought back against the bullies are punished.

“The staff needs to be aware of what’s going on. There’s a lot of troubled and troubling kids at Schenectady High that create issues,” she said.

Other issues raised included the lack of minority teachers and counselors. Ely said that about 7 to 8 percent of the teaching and counseling staff is non-white and they have tried to recruit more: “Quite frankly, there just aren’t a lot of candidates out there.”

Another topic was making sure counselors are meeting with students on a regular basis and making sure they are aware of scholarship opportunities.

Lynn Rafalik, director of pupil personnel services for the school district, said the guidance office works with students to chart out their academic plan and help them make decisions about their future.

ACORN had presented a list of recommendations to the superintendent based on some previous community meetings. The school district has already agreed to several of them, including building a community coalition to distribute information about current policies on youth distress. In addition, it will hold a three-day training program on this issue for certain staff members this August and for all school staff in February 2010.

The district will also work with ACORN to get more parents involved in their children’s schools. It supports the idea of a student representative on the board and will look into crafting an anonymous survey to get students’ views on school issues and the performance of the teachers and staff.

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June 25, 2009
5:45 a.m.
ella says...

Sensitivity training and urban cultural awareness are needed by the teachers and administrators. ALL rules must be equally enforced- wearing of hats, no swearing,
no cell phones. They are not- as a teacher in this district, I can tell you many teachers do not want the paperwork that goes with bad behavior reporting, nor the threats that go with it, by the student, to the teacher. Plus in TCI they teach to let it go the child will get bored and come around.
The high school needs monitors that will actually enforce the rules and the middle schools need to be on board. Would you let yourself be threatened for $10 an hour?

June 25, 2009
8:03 a.m.
jetlag says...

Instead of blaming the district for trying to maintain an atmophere where ALL children can learn, how about controlling your own children and teaching them respect. Out of control children - no matter what color they are - are going to get in trouble. If not in school, where they are young enough to learn to control their anger, then after they leave school and end up in prison. I'm getting tired of hearing parents of black children blaming everyone but themselves. The kids learn behavior at home - teach them!

June 25, 2009
9:08 a.m.
wmarincic says...

My kid goes to Sch'dy high she will be a senior this year. She has been taught respect at home and has always been punished for inappropriate behavior which includes talking back and disrespect. I have constant communication with all of her teachers, her guidance counselor and house principal and I hear back from them almost immedietly and they have always been a GREAT help. So I will say to those that ALWAYS want to make it a race issue. Stop blaming everyone but yourselves. Your child got arrested because he or she was not taught how to act at home. And as far as ACORN goes they are a racist socialist organization that has been accused of fraud and voting irregularities in dozens of states.

June 25, 2009
9:13 a.m.
wmarincic says...

Why was jetlag's comment removed? They said nothing innapropriate. Is it wrong to tell parents that they need to be responsible for their kids????

June 25, 2009
9:22 a.m.
residentX says...

the fact that 62% of the district student population is non-white may have something to do with this as well.

and regarding calling the parent first... you would be surprised at how many parents jump to defend their childs behavior regardless of what that behavior is. Parents have pushed to handcuff the education system's disciplinary capabilities... this is the result. Accept it... afterall... you asked for it.

whats the ratio of arrests by the Schenectady PD outside the schools... probably quite similar. It isnt all a conspiracy.

news flash... the schools have been hamstrung by parents in what they can and cant do as far as discipline. Often times by the same parents who dont discipline their kids properly at home. Monitors wont do much... hell the kids are assaulting teachers and monitors already.

the parents are probably MORE at fault for the school behaviors of their children.

hope to get some numbers from the last year or so ... but here is an example of WHO to balme...

Shenendehowa had 204 suspensions in 2006. Schenectady and Albany each had over 2,000 the same year. When the urban families start taking responsibility for their own and their childrens actions in a majority... THAT is when you will see change.

June 25, 2009
9:32 a.m.
residentX says...

i would also be skeptical regading "urban cultural awareness". This can be stretched quite far. If this means "gangsta" is acceptable then "urban cultural awareness" is unacceptable. How about as we are training staff to be more culturally aware... lets have trainings for kids to learn respect, since many of them arent getting that at home.

June 25, 2009
9:48 a.m.
mbrisport says...

This is in response to Jetlag.
I attended the meeting last night and I am still amazed by the narrow views of so many parents within our district. My attempt to guide the conversation to the issue of ‘personal responsibility’ regarding appropriate behavior was futile. Simply, if a student is behaving appropriately throughout all portions of the school day, there will be no need for disciplinary actions (either by the school district or law enforcement). Why is that so difficult to understand?
Jetlag, please understand that not all families of black children share the views of the parents who were interviewed (actually, I am sure you already know that). Several attendees suggested that the school district needs to hire more minority teachers so that they can function as role models. I understand that need, yet role models should not be found only in schools…….a parent is a child’s first role model. The meeting last night was a clear example of the following statement: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them”.

June 25, 2009
9:56 a.m.
residentX says...

excellent post mbrisport... EXCELLENT

June 25, 2009
10:50 a.m.
CapDistrictMom says...

The bottom line here is that it seems that aggressively opposing any disciplinary actions teaches kids to question it too.

Respect for authority breeds respect for authority! Personal responsiblity for your actions - crime and consequence.

Kids are not perfect by any means, however, the level of misbehavior increase when you are not made responsible for your actions.

Stripping the schools of their authority will accomplish nothing but a generation of kids that expect something for nothing, are accountable for nothing and have no self control or discipline!

The numbers of minorities in the school district are self explanatory - that is not a conspiracy on the school district's part!

June 25, 2009
11:22 a.m.
MsVillano says...

This is such an OLD issue. When I attended the school (Linton- Class of '74) the black students never reported to homeroom but instead hung out in the halls with the only black guidance counselor Mr. Thomas. They were "above the rules" as the school administrators were afraid of causing a racial riot and the exact same charges that are being hurled 35 years later, the cry of discrimination. Perhaps if the parents of these children look into the mirror they will see the REAL problem. They are looking to blame someone else for their shortcomings. If the parents had taken the time to TEACH their children respect and to "follow the rules", they would not be out there wasting the time and resources of the schoolboard.

June 25, 2009
12:43 p.m.
tc says...

If you don't have personal responsibility or respect for authority by the time you're in high school, you will NEVER have it. Society has shifted accountability away from the mis-behaving student ond onto society itself. And parents who refuse to take responsibility for their child's actions only reinforces that. Thankfully this is still the exception to the rule...for now.

June 25, 2009
1:17 p.m.
residentX says...

interesting that in this thread there are many people speaking their mind that parents and individuals need start being accountable and taking responsibility for their actions. In other threads regarding the district and the administration... its all the districts fault.

the district is by far not perfect but so many of the problems that plague the district are related DIRECTLY to the home lives of these kids.

June 25, 2009
1:30 p.m.
artvandalay says...

They can't discipline criminal employees. They refuse to fire anyone even if he is sitting in a jail cell. They can't run an election. They promote incompetents. But we expect them to fairly discipline students?

District is "Far for perfect"? As far from perfect as you can get. The worst school district in the State. There is more to come out. Resign or face the consequences.

June 25, 2009
1:40 p.m.
residentX says...

exhibit A, as in artvandalay

where was CSEA in all of this when it appears that it was a number of CSEA employees involved?

and as usual overstating your opinion... the district is NOT the worst in the state... not even close. Nice try though.

If I were you I would be real careful... because even though you feel your anonymity allows you to say anything you want. Your IP address is still traceable and you still can be held libel. If you're going to be making claims... be sure you have the evidence to back those claims up.

I personally could care less because I dont mind exposing you for what you are here on this site... but others may wish to do so in a court room.

June 25, 2009
2:22 p.m.
tc says...

This event was organized by ACORN??...Now there's an acronym depicting honesty and integrity.

June 25, 2009
3:09 p.m.
jetlag says...

mbrisport, you are correct. I do realize that blame is being passed by parents of all colors and I apologize for limiting my comment to blacks only. I'm afraid it's the frustration showing. It's hard to hear parents continually malign the schools, police, etc. These agencies are trying to do their jobs. They can't be expected to also be parents. Children reflect their parents and perhaps that's the real reason parents become so defensive! Your comments were right on and insightful. Good job.

June 25, 2009
4:40 p.m.
artvandalay says...

The CSEA has cleaned house. The school district, with it's apologist here, continues on its crash course towards a State takeover.

It's always someone else's fault-at what point is the $150+ Million District reponsible for something? Anyone that could defend them after that bogus election and last night meeting is in serious denial. Another crap update. Elys had a 4 hour meeting with the DA today. More to follow.

June 25, 2009
4:45 p.m.
wmarincic says...

My 17 year old daughter was grounded for the summer for something that she did. It is not easy being a parent, it is not easy seeing her cry when I tell her that no you are grounded and can't go with your friends. I did not make the decision lightly but felt that it was necessary. If parent start thinking about their children and their childs future rather than their own selfish selves then this would not be an issue. My problem is this, ACORN is to race relations as Al sharpton is to race relations. They are an organization of rabble rousers that constantly hold up the race card. The parents at this meeting were waving the race card rather than take the responsibility for their kids. My child loses her cell phone for a day if she is late for a class and I certainly would not blame the school. When we start taking responsibility for our and our childrens actions is when things will change. Race will always be an issue as long as we use race as an issue. My kid is white and if she does wrong I EXPECT the school to punish her, period. Everybody want's to make excuses and the easiest one is to yell racism, I'm tired of hearing about it. If you have been involved with your child and the school and have been a good parent then you may have a case for yelling racism if not then maybe it's time that you become involved with your kid and school before the next stop is prison.

June 26, 2009
6:25 a.m.
residentX says...

its interesting that everyone involved were CSEA members and the person doing the crime was a CSEA local leader... someone who is supposed to look out for the rights of the members of the union. Why is it that CSEA is not being sued... they are the ones that are supposed to be looking out for the rights of its members? Instead ... lets go after the school district... its always their fault.

dont forget... the very same people (CSEA) that were supposed to be protecting its members... protect Raucci from being touched by the district if no real proof or conviction exists. So as much as you all would like to believe the district should have done something. There isnt a whole lot they can do if proof isnt found ... especially with a powerful union hovering and Raucci being one of its local leaders.

if you ask me ... THAT is where the Raucci investigation should begin... with CSEA.

and artvandalay... we get it... you dont like your tax bill. Go talk to the city leaders... they are the cause.

June 26, 2009
8:19 a.m.
residentX says...

wait wait wait.. let me answer for the deadbeat parents... "the police shouldnt have been called."

even better... these are just the 8 year olds.

June 26, 2009
8:55 a.m.
wmarincic says...

If the kids were 8 years old and the school thought that the only recourse was to call the Police then the kid's should not be in a public school to begin with. Schools are for children to get an education and teachers are there to give an education. They are not there to act as referee's and prison guards. When I went to school if on the off chance that a kid misbehaved and disrupted a class he was taken to the cloak room for a smack with a yardstick. It happened to me once and then I got worse when I got home. My parents did not sue the school, they thanked them and I never disrupted a class again for my next 7 years of school. Stop blaming everyone for the parents lack of parenting, these same kids are the prison inmates of the future if they are not taught respect and apathy now.

June 27, 2009
8:28 a.m.
wmarincic says...

I wonder why the Gazette did not run the story that the TU did yesterday about the bus driver from the Yates School had to call the Police because the well behaved 8 year olds were climbing over seats and throwing things at him and the bus monitor. They were so out of control that he had no choice. It must be those great family values that these kids are being taught and we wonder why by the time they reach Middle and High School that teachers have to fear for their lives.

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