RCSD Superintendent to union leaders: Support plan in place at Franklin High School, more plans coming

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Rochester City School District is beginning a "support plan" in response to a number of violent incidents at Franklin High School, and will have a more "comprehensive" outline for leaders by mid-week, Superintendent Dr. Lesli Myers-Small said Sunday.

The four unions representing Rochester City Shool employees sent a letter to Myers-Small over the weekend requesting that students who become violent and cause injury to other students and staff should be placed on remote learning, it also requested the following:

  • Staffing support for School Safety Officers (SSO) and its Mobile Safety Unit.
  • Addressing school-specific needs during Superintendent Conference Day, which includes "work sessions" throughout the week.
  • Members of the district’s crisis team will be available to address needs as they come up.
  • The school’s principal will meet with staff Monday to gather feedback and share the next steps.

The announcement comes after union leaders, including Rochester Teacher’s Association President Adam Urbanski, said they are pushing for security resource officers along with increased SSO’s following another incident at the school where five teachers were hurt on Friday.

10.31.2021 Response to Union Presidents by News10NBC on Scribd

Myers-Small said Sunday she will not issue a blanket directive that all students that engage in violent behavior are placed on short or long term-suspension.

“We checked with our lawyers who are saying what educational law? Please ask the superintendent to clarify and it doesn’t make sense because they did that with a program called NorthSTAR,” Rochester Teacher’s Association President Adam Urbanski said.

NorthSTAR is an alternative program for students where students are now learning remotely.

The union also proposed a list of 11 recommendations last week and one was to bring back Rochester Police officers but said as of now, there’s been no action.

“She is saying essentially that there will be no action, that they will have more committees, discussions,” Urbanksi said. “Meanwhile the environment is not safe and the public should know that if schools aren’t safe for teachers then by definition they are not safe for children either.”

The back and forth continues after several violent incidents in school, the latest on Friday after five teachers at Franklin High School were hurt trying to break up a fight. One of them, named Ruth Card, told News10NBC she was punched several times by a student. Her arm is in a sling following the incident.

“Inaction is causing loss of confidence that the district has a grip on the situation,” Urbanski said.

Myers-Small said in the letter, “based on what we know from the impact of COVID, in-person learning provides the best learning experience for our students. Therefore, we are exploring all options that prioritize in-person instruction and will only consider remote learning options after exhausting all other solutions."

“We’re pretty upset over the fact that they tabled the discussion to hire police during arrival and dismissal times but yet they jammed through $160,000 contract for private security firm for 35 days which we look at it as a colossal waste of money,” BENTE President Dan DiClemente said.

DiClemente said they are advocating for those students that come to school and do the right thing.

“The district and the union obviously have different ideas on how to get there and so we try to work with the district where we can and were worried about everyone’s safety and that’s a very important issue for us where we’re saying, ‘Hey, look we got to do something right away,’" DiClemente said.

News10NBC did reach out to the district to see if Myers-Small was free for an interview Monday and was told she was not available.

In her letter, Dr. Myers-Small said there will be a comprehensive outline of actions to date and next steps will be communicated in writing this Wednesday.

This all comes after a teacher at Franklin High School claimed she was physically and sexually assaulted by a student at Franklin earlier this month. Earlier Friday, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke sat down with Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small to talk about the violence in the district.

The RTA said bringing back police officers is the better option, one reason is because safety officers don’t have the same training as police officers.

In her letter Sunday, Myers-Small said she would not exercise that option, calling it a "blanket directive" that violates educational law, student privacy rights, and the district’s policies. She said currently, a student who acts violent is placed on short or long-term suspension, with some assigned to an in-person "alternative" instruction.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic stressed the importance of keeping students in person.

"Therefore, we are exploring all options that prioritize in-person instruction and will only consider remote learning options after exhausting all other solutions," Myers-Small said.

The superintendent has maintained she wants to avoid bringing back the SROs, instead, she maintains seeking out additional SSOs, which include counselors, social workers, and other support staff, is the best option.

The last couple of weeks, RCSD and the City of Rochester had Rochester Police officers stationed outside of all 11 secondary schools in the district during arrival and dismissal times. In her Sunday note, Myers-Small referenced the district’s updated dismissal and arrival protocols, which include the beefed-up security. She also mentioned additional social-emotional support staff at "high-needs" schools.

"We acknowledge that our school communities are navigating a variety of issues around staffing, student conduct, and the impact of the pandemic," Myers-Small said. "We also know that we have an increasing amount of students who are not adhering to our outlined expectations which are contributing to an already challenging time on our campuses."

Follow News10NBC for updates on this developing story throughout the week.