Broadalbin-Perth will be putting its elementary school pupils and secondary school students on separate buses via a pilot program starting in May, part of a strategy to deal with safety concerns stemming from an alleged incident on a school district bus.
On March 22, an email was sent home to district parents from schools Superintendent Stephen M. Tomlinson alerting them to “a serious behavior concern on one of our buses.” The email referred to an unnamed individual as “an alleged perpetrator.”
Jessica Badgero, the parent of a district student, told the school board Monday night that she needs more answers about what is being done to protect the district’s children.
“I know there’s an investigation going on and we aren’t going to discuss that, but as a parent, and obviously [you board members] are all parents — we’re scared. This was kind of an emergency. This was a very severe thing, and parents want answers,” she said.
After the March 22 email, school district officials and law enforcement officials in Fulton County have said little information can be made available about the alleged incident due to the state’s “Raise the Age” legislation of 2018, which increased the age at which New York residents can receive adult criminal charges to 18 for nonviolent crimes. Previously, New York had been one of two states where 16- and 17-year-olds were automatically charged as adults.
Sheriff Richard Giardino and Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown told The Daily Gazette last week that their interpretation of the “Raise the Age” statute is that they cannot discuss alleged scenarios involving individuals that the new law says cannot be charged as adults. Neither would confirm whether an arrest has been made regarding the alleged incident, or any details about the incident.
Brown said there are violent crimes, such as murder and rape, and some sexual offense crimes that do not fall under the “Raise the Age” law, but in those cases a judge needs to make a determination as to whether an individual who is not an adult can be charged as an adult. Brown said he can’t comment at all on the alleged incident on the Broadalbin-Perth school district bus.
Tomlinson Monday night said if it were not for the “Raise the Age” legislation, he believes law enforcement could reveal more information about the allegations.
“Number one, the police departments have told us, very clearly, that we cannot speak up about any element of the incident that occurred.
“Aside from that, it’s also a requirement to protect the confidentiality of the students within the school,” Tomlinson said. “So, essentially what I mean is that if this were not a police investigation, I still could not give the names of the students. We have to protect the integrity of our students. We’re dealing with young children, old children — it doesn’t really matter the age — any student, when there’s an issue in school, I can’t just give the name of the students.”
In the email sent home to parents, Tomlinson stated “the alleged perpetrator of this particular incident has been removed from our school system, including all buildings and buses. The safety and security of your children in our schools and on our buses remains a top priority.”
Tomlinson Monday night said New York state education law gives building administrators the authority to suspend students up to a maximum of five days. He said after the five-day suspension, a district superintendent can conduct a hearing and make a ruling on whether or not to remove a student indefinitely. He said minor disciplinary issues, like tardiness or absenteeism, are not sufficient for a superintendent to remove a student indefinitely, but more serious matters, even without criminal charges, can trigger the indefinite suspension of a student.
Badgero said parents deserve a detailed communication on the steps the district is taking to enhance security on its school buses.
“What we need is a timeline, a letter stating ‘These buses are going to get monitors, these buses are going to get cameras.’ We need something in writing,” she said.
Tomlinson said the district is going to modify its bus routes to separate all elementary school pupils and all secondary students, which is junior high school through high school.
Currently, Broadalbin-Perth has two campuses, each containing two schools. The Perth campus houses the junior high school and elementary grades. The Broadalbin campus has the high school and the “Learning Community” grades, which include kindergarten. This setup has led to older and much younger students riding together on buses.
“The most significant change next year will be that our secondary students will not be riding the bus with elementary students. I think what most of the people here would like us to do is either place an aide on every bus or remove the secondary students from riding with elementary students,” he said. “We are confident we can separate them, and that that’s the most cost-effective way to solve the issue. We’re going to try to pilot that beginning in May.”
Tomlinson said the district is budgeting an additional $60,000 in its 2019-20 budget to handle any cost overruns from implementing the new busing system, which could include hiring more bus drivers, but he believes the district can accomplish the change without any additional funding.
“Part of what we’re doing now is re-envisioning the routes. I’ll be honest with you, making some routes a little longer than others, but it’s a way we can satisfy [what people want] without adding to the budget,” Tomlinson said.
Some district residents said they want to see more security cameras on the buses and in the schools.
Tomlinson said currently all of Broadalbin-Perth’s buses have two security cameras, one in the front and rear, but do not have “side cameras” or cameras operating on “rail systems” that enable greater coverage of the interior of the buses. He said school buses have “very tall” seats that can hinder the front and back cameras from recording everything that goes on in the bus. He said the camera footage is typically only useful in disciplinary matters “after the fact.” The school district will be putting a proposition before voters to purchase four new school buses, all of which will have the side cameras needed for additional security, he said.
School district resident Greg Manzer admonished the board for not listening to his warnings about older and younger students riding together on school buses.
“I sat in a school board meeting last September and addressed the problem with you guys of bigger kids riding with littler kids. That was incident number one. Incident number two happened, and I emailed every single one of you about the problems that I see with high-schoolers and junior high-schoolers riding with little kids. Obviously nothing was done,” he said. “I sat down with Mr. Tomlinson [and a school board member] in December, we had a meeting about this and it’s sickening that something could go this far after you guys were given tools and resources to address this situation and nothing was done.
“So, I feel for that family. You guys can all turn a blind eye.”
School board President Robert Becker said he respectfully disagreed with Manzer’s assessment.
He said he understands why parents are frustrated.
“It’s frustrating for me that I can’t reassure parents, that I can’t point out the things that we’re doing to keep this from happening,” he said.