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NAACP: School violence at crisis level

YOUNGSTOWN — Violence in and around Youngstown City Schools has created an environment of intimidation and fear that is being felt by the 85 percent of district students who want to learn, according to a report by the NAACP Youngstown chapter.

“This is at a crisis level,” said Jimma McWilson, the chapter’s vice president, describing what he says is the high number of violent fights in the city schools over the past several years.

McWilson spoke about the situation Wednesday during a news conference at the NAACP offices on Fifth Avenue on the North Side.

In a five-year review of Youngstown City School District data, 770 fights were recorded in a recent nine-month period, or about 85 fights per month, he noted. In addition, a five-year analysis dating to 2015 shows that 10,417 suspensions resulted districtwide.

“If there are 770 fights, something is wrong with what’s in place and needs corrected,” McWilson said.

Two ways to address the problem are to offer intervention services and proper documentation for those in their first fight, as well as to begin intervening when necessary with elementary school students because “it needs to be prevented before it gets to middle school” and onward, he continued.

It’s also incumbent upon school officials such as Justin Jennings, the district’s chief executive officer, to support such an approach, and for parents to attend workshops if their children have been in more than one fight, McWilson explained.

RIPPLE EFFECT

The “unacceptable” level of fights also has the ripple effect of negatively impacting 85 percent of the estimated 5,000 YCS students who are never in fights, partly by creating an intimidating environment — something that adversely affects their ability to achieve academic excellence, he contended.

“Violence in the schools affects the psycho-social and emotional ability of students to learn,” McWilson said. “Most students attending Youngstown schools want to learn and do not want to attend schools where there are threats of violence.”

McWilson said the threats of violence and actual fights also affect district employees’ ability to teach.

Violence in the schools is, in part, affecting the district’s report card scores, because students who do not feel safe in school do not do as well as they can academically.

Key recommendations the NAACP proposed are to help students who are not part of violent fights acquire a feeling of being in a safe, secure and healthful environment; remove repeat offenders from the general population and place them in a home school or other system to help them be successful; and require parents or other responsible family members to take part in a home-school-community intervention program while they’re in an alternative setting.

The civil rights organization also called for requiring parents or responsible family members to sign a contract to allow the student to re-enter the general population after an amount of time that’s directly proportional to the severity of the violence, and place on nine-week public and academic report cards the number of violent fights for that period to ensure that parents and the public are aware of whether the child is attending a safe and secure school.

SCHOOLS RESPONSE

Board President Brenda Kimble said the NAACP must decide what it wants.

“They can’t have it both ways,” Kimble said. “They told the last CEO the district should not have so many suspensions and expulsions. However, if you have students disrupting and tearing up classrooms there has to be some kind of discipline. They should be moved to a different place for students who want to learn have the opportunity to in a safe place.”

Denise Dick, district spokeswoman, took issue with McWilson’s contention that the district too often inadequately handles violent fights in the schools.

“While we recognize that scholars sometimes fight, it’s inaccurate to say that it’s tolerated by the school district,” Dick said in a statement. “Fights are broken up when they occur and discipline is meted out accordingly.”

In addition, the school district implements Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports as a means to solve problems and prevent fights and other negative actions. Specifically, PBIS includes setting expectations for behavior, ensuring students understand those expectations, recognizing when they exhibit positive behaviors and maintaining consistency, she noted.

“While we acknowledge that the work is ongoing, we continue to focus efforts on improving the culture and climate of our schools,” Dick added.

School board member Jacqueline Adair said the number of reported fights in the district decreased from its 2018 high. The number of reported fights in the district was 582 in 2014, 553 in 2015, 462 in 2016, 522 in 2017 and 825 in 2018.

But Adair also said the district should take stricter disciplinary actions when fights occur.

“There is a behavior intervention program, but they (students) often get slaps on the wrists,” Adair said. “Teachers have been writing up students, sending them to the school offices and then seeing them sent back to their classrooms. The teachers get frustrated.”

news@tribtoday.com

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