SCHENECTADY – A veteran teacher recently spoke out about alleged violence in the high school, saying he’s never been as concerned about the safety of students and staff as he is now.
The claim could not be supported by police, but it was supported by a father who shared a video of his 11th-grade son being beaten by a fellow ROTC student in recent weeks.
Chris Ognibene told the Board of Education last week of his frustrations about increased violence in the building, and the teacher called on the board to “take bold action” by reverting to virtual learning at least one day every other week.
Changing the mode of learning would lessen anxiety, Ognibene said. He recounted various incidents in the building.
However, a spokesman for the Schenectady Police Department, which does not deploy a resource officer at the high school, said Monday he did not believe there’s been an increase in violence at the school this year.
But more young adults are harming themselves and others because of the mental health crisis in the country and the two-year plus stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ognibene said.
During conversations with two faculty colleagues and an administrator within 20 minutes of entering the high school last Wednesday, Ognibene said each of those district employees told him they wanted to quit their jobs.
Ognibene said educators were “tired, exhausted and fearful.”
He described a Black teacher who said he was called the n-word when he asked students to put on their facemasks. The students also threatened to jump that teacher, Ognibene said.
He also described uninvited community members entering the school two weeks ago in search of violence.
The week before that, uninvited community members came into the school unnoticed, entered a classroom and attacked a student, Ognibene said.
The “life is being sucked out of our staff” because of teacher shortages, and nothing was being done about it to Ognibene’s knowledge, he said.
The teacher directed blame at school board members.
“I’ve been constantly and unwaveringly disappointed by this board, new members excluded,” he said, adding that he’s emailed and met with individual board members, with no result.
Ognibene said he was giving an exam to U.S. history students when six pupils who were unfamiliar to him entered the room to cause a disruption. One student “butted up” against the teacher’s chest and called Ognibene, who’s white, the n-word. Ognibene said the student also threatened to harm him.
“That shouldn’t be happening,” he said. “Our kids are begging for help.”
Meanwhile, a parent, Albert Manwaring, recently contacted the media to express concern about violence in the school after his son Demetrious Manwaring was attacked twice in separate incidents on Sept. 29.
Manwaring obtained video of the second of the two attacks.
Adding insult to injury, Albert Manwaring said, the alleged attacks occurred the day after Demetrious’s mother, Sherry Edwards, was buried. She died of complications from leukemia.
Albert Manwaring said a staff member from the school called to notify him about the first attack. The staffer promised to do something about it.
A short time later he was called again, prompting Albert Manwaring to visit the school and suggest to the principal that there was an issue with violence.
Albert Manwaring said he was told that the first attacker had alleged his son, a 16-year-old 11th-grader who’s white, had used a racial slur when he was in eighth grade, a claim the son denies.
Albert Manwaring said the second attack stemmed from a rumor that his son had engaged in sexual contact with a 12-year-old girl, a claim Albert Manwaring also denied.
Albert Manwaring said he kept his son out of school the day after the attacks. He said he was told that at least one of the attackers had been suspended from school. But he said he wasn’t given any other details, and the police are still investigating.
He said he’s concerned for his son’s safety when the suspension ends.
District spokeswoman Karen Corona said she wasn’t able to provide an administrator to speak about alleged violence in the high school Monday, which was a holiday for the district. The spokeswoman invited a reporter to speak with administrators later this week to talk about challenges and the district’s focus on helping students and moving forward.
The spokeswoman said Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. was aware of the video. The alleged attacker’s behavior was addressed with consequences according to the district’s code of conduct.
“It’s an event that led to some of the changes we are making,” Corona said.