AMSTERDAM — Physical violence by students against their classmates inside of schools captured on video and shared on social media is “disturbing,” according to Greater Amsterdam School District parents, administrators and the Board of Education.
Leticia Vazquez had a good experience when she was a student at Lynch Middle School, which contributed to her own child’s excitement to attend this year before repeated bullying by another student made the child afraid to go to school. She said school administrators have been unable to stop the behavior.
“I know I’m not the only parent going through this,” Vazquez said. “A lot of other children are scared.”
Andreea Prusky’s child is similarly afraid to go to school after witnessing fights each day. She said her child will walk to the other side of the building to use the “safest” restroom closest to where hall monitors are stationed to avoid being jumped by classmates like other students have been in videos captured inside the school and shared on social media.
Fourth Ward Alderman Stephen Gomula has received repeated calls from parents of students at the school located within his ward regarding the ongoing violence and their inability to get help or answers from the district.
“Complaints and stories are in the double digits and that is not just kids being kids,” Gomula said. “This current state of affairs is not a situation I would expose my own child to. I sympathize with these parents and do not feel comfortable allowing them to subject their children to these threats.”
Parents brought their concerns to the Board of Education during a special meeting on Wednesday called to implement new measures to address the ongoing problems and repeated threats of violence against schools. The school board members added their voices to the chorus, discussing stories from parents and staff members troubled by the current situation.
Board member Rev. Kent McHeard said staff came to him after bringing their concerns over fighting to administrators during a safety committee meeting only to be turned away without their concerns addressed as it wasn’t the correct forum to discuss student behavior issues.
The “disturbing” videos of students fighting inside city schools sometimes show staff exposed to the same issues and forced to step into the middle of the clashes, McHeard said.
“If staff feel they cannot cry out, I think that needs to change. If not only some students are not comfortable coming to school, before long teachers are not going to be comfortable,” McHeard said.
The bullying and behavior described by parents could have a lifelong effect on children experiencing and exposed to it, pointed out board member Michael Villa.
“We have to take aggressive steps,” Villa said.
Superintendent Richard Ruberti admitted the district has previously taken action to try to quell the behavior, “but not enough.”
“The behavior of students and results of fighting are very disturbing,” Ruberti said.
The district has added a number of student support service positions over the past year to provide academic and social-emotional interventions that may help address the issues. The creation of new clubs provide chances for positive school engagement and partnerships with area service agencies provide more opportunities for at-risk youth and students in need of other assistance.
Repeated threats of violence against city schools over the past two months led the district to take additional actions after parents cried out for improved communication surrounding the district’s response.
The district will work to improve and expand its communication with parents by sharing any further threats of violence with all parents districtwide over the ParentSquare app. The district will also try to employ social media to reach more parents while sharing school news and detailing programs of interest.
Thanking the parents who shared their concerns at the meeting, Ruberti said the district wants to hear from more parents about their experiences and any suggestions to help address the problems. The district is expected to organize forums to gather this input later this month.
Ruberti noted that principals are empowered to hand out discipline, including in- and out-of-school suspensions. If more than a five-day suspension is requested, students are subject to a superintendent’s hearing, which can result in the child’s suspension from school for up to one calendar year.
However, Ruberti noted out-of-school suspensions can have adverse consequences that can lead to repeat offenses if students disengage from school. The district is exploring potentially gaining access for middle school students to an alternative education program through BOCES to address these issues similar to the existing Adirondack Academy for high school students.
“That program hasn’t existed for a number of years. That would give us more options,” Ruberti said.
The Board of Education additionally approved the creation of several new positions on Wednesday to assist with the ongoing disciplinary issues following an executive session to discuss the “work history and conditions of employment of particular persons” that lasted nearly an hour and a half.
A resolution on the meeting agenda originally called for the district to hire two new school monitors, but following the executive session, the board approved hiring seven new school monitors. No names were attached to the positions that are to be filled immediately, meaning any discussion about altering the resolution in executive session violated state Open Meetings laws.
The board additionally approved the creation of a full-time dean of students at both the high school and middle school. The new positions expected to be filled around mid-March will be involved in addressing disciplinary problems at the secondary level and would be accessible to students maintaining a visible presence in hallways.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.