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After-school mass gatherings often lead to fights | #schoolsaftey

Buffalo Schools Superintendent Tonja M. Williams is right to be concerned about large groups of unsupervised high school students gathering in public places. There have already been plenty of documented fights over the past few years, endangering both students and anyone else unfortunate enough to get in the way.

If official warnings can help prevent violence, injuries or even death, they’re needed. If students’ safety is at risk, then something needs to be done.

Parents must play their role. That’s why the recent messages issued to parents via robocall and video from the superintendent and other administration members don’t seem an objectionable strategy. It’s going to require all hands on deck to deal with this problem.

Unsurprisingly – and, to some degree, understandably – three official parent groups as well as individual parents are objecting to the messages. Their concerns include the tone of the calls, the citing of possible negative consequences if students don’t heed the warnings and the fact that the calls are not targeted but broadcast to all high school households.

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An overarching critique is that the calls focus on warnings and possible punishment rather than restorative justice strategies that try to address deeper problems.

While it’s true that systemic issues related to root causes should be addressed, and restorative justice should absolutely be a priority when it comes to school discipline, this remediation should be happening in addition to actions taken to relieve immediate problems. This is not an either/or situation. Systemic issues don’t get that way overnight and, unfortunately, they’ll also take a substantial amount of time to fix.

In the meantime, the incidents are real. Stabbings at Fountain Plaza in 2021 and 2022 sent three students to Erie County Medical Center and less lethal incidents where crowds of kids watched a few students tussle were common. Buffalo Place Executive Director Michael Schmand said he hadn’t seen so many fights at the site since he started working there 20 years ago.

Last spring, the downtown Central Library had to curtail its hours from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. because of after-school fights involving 20-30 people at a time.

Police backup was called several times and eventually Buffalo Peacemakers were hired to help keep order so that normal hours could resume.

The district has attempted to get in front of possible problems by limiting the amount of hours students – those who don’t have extracurricular activities or other special reasons for needing extra time – have to get home, using their school-issued bus passes. This year, instead of having more than four hours to complete their trips home, students now get two hours.

District messages about after-school gatherings are doubtless intended to supplement these precautions.

There is no one-fix-all solution and the toolbox used to address student disciplinary problems needs to be diverse and inclusive. But immediate problems require both immediate and long-term solutions.

After-school mass gatherings and the altercations that can result come with the real possibility of grave harm.

While there might be reason to criticize tone and wording – and the district can surely do more – this messaging shows that the administration is focused, as it should be, on student safety.

What’s your opinion? Send it to us at lettertoeditor@buffnews.com. Letters should be a maximum of 300 words and must convey an opinion. The column does not print poetry, announcements of community events or thank you letters. A writer or household may appear only once every 30 days. All letters are subject to fact-checking and editing.

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