The Schenectady City School District will host a panel discussion next week about the problems at Mont Pleasant Middle School.
The forum, run with the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission, will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the McChesney Room of the main branch of the Schenectady County Public Library, 99 Clinton St.
Four panelists will participate in a moderated discussion, after which the public can ask questions. The discussion will not be limited to what’s going on in the school, but also to community problems that could instigate or worsen school issues.
None of the panelists are school officials, but one has just been hired to help the school district analyze whether gangs are involved in the schools. LeRoy Fogle, CEO of Rainbow Youth Services, will go into the schools to assess gang involvement.
He said he will explain at the forum his gang prevention program and call for parents to volunteer in the schools.
“Sit in a classroom with their kids. Get involved in programs at the school,” he said. “Parents should be brought in. I understand many of them are single parents and they have to work, but any time you have, please invest in your kids.”
He was hired by the district six years ago to do a similar gang assessment, he added.
“It was very successful. Those kids went through my program, and now, they’ve graduated and gone on to college,” he said.
A parent will be speaking, too. Latasha Manning, parent of a middle-school child, is on the panel.
Police Chief Brian Kilcullen, who has recently increased enforcement for children misbehaving outside Mont Pleasant Middle School, is also on the panel. Last month, he told officers to enforce “zero tolerance” and take children to Family Court for even minor crimes.
Generally, police only arrest children for serious felonies and rarely take children to Family Court for fistfights and other small misdeeds, he said. But with groups of as many as 100 students forming to watch fights, while other children threw rocks at cars and houses, Kilcullen said the children needed the help Family Court could provide.
Teachers have been riding with police to identify students who are misbehaving. Superintendent Laurence Spring said that led to an abrupt improvement in behavior.
“The anonymity was gone,” he said.
Also speaking will be Darin Samaha, a licensed social worker and director of Schenectady County Community Services, an agency that organizes services for children and adults with mental health issues, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems.
Human Rights Commission Director Angelicia Morris said she hoped the forum would help the community find solutions to problems plaguing the school.
“We are concerned for the students’ safety,” she said. “What is the next step? What’s going to be done about the problems?”
She added the district should not be attacked over the situation.
“We firmly believe the school district is doing the best they can,” she said.
Discussing the issue in a moderated forum will let the public talk it out “in a constructive and yet civil way,” she said. “It makes people feel safe to talk about the issues and address the issues.”