Rochester NY Jan 22 2009
Students at East High School knocked a school safety officer down a flight of stairs last week, sending him to the hospital with a broken pelvis.
Such an incident is not surprising, says Dan DiClemente, the Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees union president who represents the Rochester School District’s safety officers.
He blames Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard’s in-school suspension policy for creating an “increasingly hostile” environment in schools.
School security officer Otis Mull was pursuing a student who was not supposed to be at the school when other students pushed him down stairs, causing injuries that are expected to keep Mull out of work for at least six weeks. The incident occurred last Tuesday.
District spokesman Tom Petronio said that two students have been suspended in connection with the assault and the district is continuing to investigate whether other culprits can be identified.
The Rochester Police Department could not immediately say whether anyone had been arrested.
To Petronio’s knowledge, no arrests have been made in response to the incident.
Petronio could not say whether the suspended students were on short-term or long-term suspension. This year there has been controversy over a Brizard policy that keeps students who receive short-term suspensions at their schools in in-school suspension programs to keep them in the school environment.
DiClemente said that this policy has hurt school culture. “There is little consequence for the actions of a few misbehaved adolescents,” he said.Typically students who commit violent acts receive long-term suspensions and are sent to an off -site program called I’M READY.
DiClemente said that Mull’s pelvis was broken in the attack, but Petronio said the injuries may have been less severe. In any case, Petronio said that district leaders are working to improve school safety. “The district takes the incident very seriously,” he said.
This incident is the latest in a series of problems at East High School, the district’s largest school. At the November Board of Education meeting, scores of people turned out to describe East as out of control.
Also in November, a gun was found in the school, forcing a lockdown. DiClemente says he has not received a response from the district on safety concerns that were brought up at the November meeting.
In response to problems, Brizard has sent more teachers and safety officers to East, which is located on East Main Street. Petronio said that the district continues to work with the administration and staff at East to make changes that will improve student behavior and is considering an after-school program for persistently disruptive students.
This September, Brizard added close to 30 new full-time school safety officers, bringing the districtwide number to 131. The district also has started providing a month’s worth of new training for safety officers at the beginning of the year. “Some people thought that once we got this training, everything would change,” said Ronald Richardson, a lead safety officer and Mull’s BENTE representative. He says that improvement takes time and that administrators have to let sentries do what they are trained to do.
Richardson said that safety officers break up fights on a daily basis, but injuries the magnitude of Mull’s are rare. He said Mull is in pain but is doing OK.
After the incident, Mull said he couldn’t wait till he’s better so he could go back to work, Richardson said — “he feels responsible every day for what happens in that school.”
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