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Education
What you need to know for 01/21/2017

Schenectady middle school issues grow

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Schenectady middle school issues grow

As many as 18 students were suspended from Mont Pleasant Middle School this week amid chaotic scenes
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As many as 18 students were suspended from Mont Pleasant Middle School this week amid chaotic scenes of violence and disrespect at the large school.

None of the suspended students will ever be allowed back into the middle school, Superintendent Laurence Spring said Friday.

“My goal is that they never return to this school,” he said.

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But problems have persisted. He has met with police several times and met with them again Friday in an effort to resolve the crisis.

It was first reported to The Daily Gazette by teachers, who refused to speak on the record for fear of losing their jobs.

But Spring confirmed their accounts: large street fights after school, involving at least 100 students and adult relatives, and a refusal during school to acknowledge teachers have any authority.

Police have recently been stationed outside the school following repeated incidents nearby after classes let out for the day.

Spring said the incidents requiring a police presence in the hour after school lets out have involved some students from the middle school, students from other schools in the district, students from outside the district and adults.

“We've asked the police to have a presence in that area at the end of the day to prevent some of those things from going on,” he said.

The number of officers at the school varies, he said, with officers encouraging students to go right home at the end of the day.

Spring was at the school Friday afternoon. He and Assistant Police Chief Jack Falvo concluded a meeting around 3:15 p.m. and decided to survey the scene.

The incidents have created anxiety and tension in the school at the end of the day, and Spring said he is working with police and members of the community to solve the problem.

“I'm not sure the solution is necessary a law enforcement solution,” he said.

Adults have gotten involved in the incidents, he said, because of long-standing family feuds.

Spring said it started with insubordination. A group of students refused to follow basic directions — such as sitting down or taking out their notebooks — and instead cursed at teachers. In the hallways, they tried to ignore administrators who required hall passes and other basic behavior.

Many adolescents give administrators an attitude when they are called aside in the hall, Spring said, but usually they obey.

“You push the edges of the rules. They’re kind of testing, ‘What can I get away with?’ ” Spring said. “But when the bell rings, they leave their class. When an adult in the hallways says, ‘I need to speak to you,’ they go, ‘Whaaaa?’ but they’re there.”

These students weren’t.

He said they decided, “I’m not going to acknowledge adults in this school have authority over me.”

That sometimes happens, but usually with one student, he said. But this time, teachers were facing multiple students who jointly confronted authority and refused to obey.

“It’s a very different thing when that kid has a buddy. A student who does that can’t be here,” Spring said.

Making matters worse, the students were inspiring about 40 others to follow their lead, Spring said.

“That’s where we want to stop it,” he said. “A small number of individuals in a group can resocialize a group if they’re exhibiting anti-social behaviors.”

After school, the core group of students either led or joined in large fights within a few blocks of the campus. When police tried to break up one fight three weeks ago, students and their adult relatives surrounded the police, threatening them.

Principal Karmen McEvoy also intervened and was hit, although it’s not clear who struck her. She left the school last week for undisclosed reasons and may be out for two weeks or more, district spokeswoman Karen Corona said.

McEvoy is the fourth principal to lead the school since the beginning of last year. An acting principal — the fifth leader in a year — has stepped in during her absence.

The fight in which McEvoy was hurt was so dangerous the entire second shift of the Schenectady Police Department was sent out early to help stop it. Typically, that would be about 15 officers.

They were sent because two police officers radioed in to say they were surrounded by an angry mob, police spokesman Lt. Mark McCracken said.

The second shift was just mustering for its pre-shift meeting. Commanders skipped the meeting and rushed them all to Mont Pleasant. No officers were hurt in the fracas, McCracken said.

There have been several other big fights, he added, and police have increased patrols after school to try to keep the peace.

Spring said he was stunned to see students confront police rather than running away or at least following their orders to stop fighting.

He linked that incident to the students’ insubordination in school. He said some students saw adults confront police and not face immediate consequences. That, he said, could have encouraged some to try the same thing in school.

“So in the last week, we’ve had an uptick in kids [with] challenging behavior in the hallways,” he said. “We certainly have noticed there’s a relationship between what’s happening outside of school and saying, ‘I want to try that behavior on. What happens when I get really bold?’ ”

But McCracken said he saw no difference between the way students behaved this month and the way they behaved in recent years.

“It’s a generational thing,” he said. “Would I say this is recent? No.”

He added that although the behavior isn’t new, the police are seeing more problems.

“At the end of last school year, there was an increase in incidents,” he said. “We’ve seen that continue into the new year.”

He said police were concerned enough to meet with Spring last spring to discuss the issue.

Police don’t know why problems have gotten worse. McCracken said the fights have not been connected to gangs or other criminal enterprises and seem to be caused by problems “spilling out from the school.”

He speculated there might just be too many students walking the same streets at once.

“It’s a small geographic area,” he said. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with the closing of Oneida.”

Oneida Middle School’s closure sent hundreds of additional students to Mont Pleasant last year. Then the school’s principal left for health reasons in October, and Spring admitted later the school was badly organized for months because of the merger with Oneida and the loss of the school leader.

He promised this year would be different. The first step, he said in September, would be to keep a principal at the school all year. At the time, he said he was confident McEvoy would remain all year.

Police met with Spring again Friday. McCracken said they are brainstorming ideas and trying to develop solutions.

“We understand there’s a problem,” McCracken said. “We’ll come up with a comprehensive plan.”

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