RCSD Superintendent: I don’t think any of my scholars are trying to hurt staff

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Teachers say they have been attacked, football games have been canceled because of threats, there are videos all over social media of fights between groups of students. The Rochester City School District is trying to get a spike in violence within its schools under control.

On Friday, Superintendent Dr. Lesli Myers-Small sat down with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke to discuss what the district is doing to try and ensure safety.

Jennifer Lewke – Do you think that the district is at a crisis level with security concerns right now?

Dr. Myers-Small – I wouldn’t necessarily call it a crisis — I would more describe it as incredibly challenging with multi-faceted parts. I just don’t think really anyone could accurately forecast how difficult that it would be. Our scholars have significant trauma in some cases, with aces [adverse childhood experiences] and our city is a little bit more unique in that we had Daniel Prude happen and that impacted many students, many families and my staff in our city and then you overlay the pandemic over that… I don’t think any of my scholars are trying to hurt staff, trying to hurt the adults… again they’re angry and they’re hurting and it doesn’t excuse their behavior at all let me be very clear about that, but our children are really, really hurting.

Jennifer Lewke – What are you doing to ensure the safety of the people who work in those school buildings, the teachers, the administrators, the lunch monitors who may find themselves caught up in a situation that’s dangerous?

Dr. Myers-Small – So again, I think it’s a multi-prong approach…it’s just so difficult because we’re seeing situations where it’s nothing that we can accurately forecast that this is going to happen that this particular fight is going to occur or this person is going to get disruptive. We have some things that have been brewing outside of school that unfortunately come into the school day and play out in a hallway or in a classroom. [Staff] — At times you have to wait until the SSO comes or if an administrator comes and you do your best to just make sure that you contain it… just to the best of your ability. I know the impulse is to get in there and to separate students but they could have, they could have a weapon on them or even if they don’t they’re just going at it and you they don’t even necessarily see who they are hurting.

Jennifer Lewke – The teachers union says since the start of the school year, 80 teachers have resigned and 14 more have put in their paperwork to resign. They claim they surveyed those teachers and the two main reasons why they’re leaving is they feel unsupported and unsafe and they’re getting better offers from suburban school districts when you hear that what goes through your mind?

Dr. Myers-Small – Certainly sadness… if you don’t feel comfortable if you don’t feel safe in your environment how can you be productive? That’s difficult and I think when you say I don’t feel supported then what more could we have done. Whom did you talk to and what did you say about your experience?

Jennifer Lewke – Why aren’t you considering putting school resource officers back in city schools?

Dr. Myers-Small – So, just a little before I came, the Board of Education was deliberating about whether they want to have school resource officers and you know there’s lots of compelling research out there around the school to prison pipeline and the mistrust and distrust that exists in the black and brown community and again we had our Daniel prude situation.

Jennifer Lewke – Do you feel like your security teams are enough, do you feel like you have enough people in those roles?

Dr. Myers-Small – Remember, we’re in a staffing shortage, we’re always looking to hire more.

Jennifer Lewke – There’s an investigation going on about your behavior, alleged sexual harassment — is that in any way impeding your ability to run this district?

Dr. Myers-Small – No, it certainly is challenging, it’s tolling right? When you have people wondering about you and as I shared with President White, I fully cooperated in the investigation because this has unfortunately become a distraction for our district, this is what people are focusing on and this is what people are talking about so I’m just looking forward to the investigation coming to an end.

Dr. Myers-Small shared that RPD officers who were patrolling secondary schools at drop-off and pick-up times have now been replaced by unarmed security guards. Faith leaders have begun “adopting” schools to try and provide mentorship. The District is working with the City of Rochester to offer additional mental health services to students. And, RCSD is currently putting together a “Dad’s on Duty” program as we’ve seen in troubled schools in other parts of the country.

RCSD is holding a meeting on Saturday, Nov. 6 at Franklin High School to talk about other options to increase safety.