Batavia City Schools’ parents speak out about bullying at the district

By jfbeck_99_272012
Dec 9, 2021, 8:01am

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Editor’s Note: Batavia City School District closed all schools last Friday, Dec. 3, following the perception of threats of violence and after the distribution of student-created literature and a proposed walk-out at Batavia High School. Students wanted to bring awareness to bullying and their belief that district officials were not responding adequately to reported incidents of bullying. The district closed after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media. Per a press release issued on Dec. 2, District officials "worked in close collaboration with the Batavia Police Department and made the decision to close the schools out of an abundance of caution." Many parents posted comments on social media and responded to The Batavian’s request for interviews. Parents’ full names and their children’s names are not being used to protect their privacy. 

To read the response of school and district officials to the parents' complaints, click here.

Lidia’s Story …
She would often come home distraught after being verbally taunted at Batavia Middle School.

She would tell her mom that kids called her names and told her to “go back where you came from,” which prompted the teenager to ask why. Why should she want to go back to Texas, she wondered.

No, that’s not what the kids meant, her mom Lidia said. Being of Hispanic and Native American descent, Lidia’s daughter was instead being asked to go back to Mexico, Lidia said.

“She would come home crying, saying ‘I’m from here,’” Lidia said Sunday to The Batavian. “I just want (district leaders) to realize there’s a problem at school. There’s bullying everywhere, and maybe the teachers, the Board of Education, the principals will pay attention.”

Lidia’s family moved from Texas to Batavia six years ago. It was mostly in the middle school that her daughter suffered from name-calling with “racist and homophobic slurs,” her mom said. The teenager, who is also gay, required counseling, a prescription medicine for depression, and, at one point earlier this year, hospitalization for her compounding mental health issues, her mom said. 

When the verbal assaults continued, albeit not quite as harsh as in middle school, the current high school senior finally had enough. She and some friends decided to organize a walk-out, promoted with a flyer, and advertise the bullying wrongs in a pamphlet, both created by Lidia’s daughter. 

She asked her mom what she thought of the idea. It wasn’t just for Lidia’s daughter, but for those others she saw getting bullied as well with nothing being done by the school district. 

“Her biggest concern was a lot of people were getting bullied and no one is doing anything,” Lidia said. “They were alone in this; she felt that maybe having a walk-out might bring it to the attention of others. I told her to go ahead, and I was going to be there. She ruffled some feathers, she put a spotlight on it.”

The pamphlet’s cover page features a Batavia Blue Devil with “Batavia School Kills” at the top. It continues to state “Don’t tell us students to do better. Don’t try to place the blame on us. Staff Members are useless. They don’t care about us.”

Due to the use of students’ names throughout the pamphlet, The Batavian is not going to publish it here. Batavia city schools “allow racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny, but won’t allow our shoulders to be exposed,” it states. There are a number of alleged bullying scenarios described, including boys yelling homophobic comments, someone being screamed at to kill him/herself by another student, and using "nig- - -," "faggot" and "stupid Jew" to describe fellow students. 

There are some educational components of defining particular words, such as ableist, transphobic, racism, sexist and anti-Semitic. A couple pages have big bold letters asking “What the F- - -.”

Lidia’s daughter has been suspended from school for violating the Code of Conduct. She will receive tutoring at a site away from the high school for an indefinite period of time. Her mom is still waiting for instructions from the district administration. 

Holly’s Story …
Bullying with no repercussions seems to be a common complaint amongst parents and their children. Holly has two children in the district and one who graduated two years ago. The 10th-grader is bi-racial and diagnosed with autism spectrum. 

Bullying has driven her online, her mom says. 

As the victim of consistent racist name-calling — with no end in sight — the 15-year-old withdrew from the brick and mortar school in May and studies completely online now. 

“So a lot of people don’t know that I had been basically bullied out of school due to racism, being called names such as ‘nig- - -‘ and ‘monkey,’ she said in an online post provided to The Batavian by her mother. 

Although her daughter told teachers and counselors about the situation, she contends that the alleged bully remained in school with no apparent accountability, Holly said. 

“They were aware of it,” she said. “The situation continued.”

Her daughter ended up making some poor choices in response to the verbal attacks, her mom said, and is willing to face the consequences.  District leaders “were quick to give her suspension,” she said, but what about the other student?

“She continues to say things,” mom said of the alleged bully.

Both Lidia and Holly said that their children were offered a solution of removing themselves from the classroom and/or hanging out in a counselor’s office. Only problem with that was her child’s bully would sometimes also be in that counselor’s office, Holly said. 

She discussed the issue with district leaders in May and June of this year, without an acceptable solution, Holly said. And although she admits that her child is not perfect, she would like to see more being done to address bullying. 

“I think awareness definitely needs to take place,” she said. “My frustration is there’s a zero-tolerance policy.”

That means if two students get into a physical altercation, even if one of them was defending him/herself, that person could also get penalized. Holly feels that’s unfair.

“I think when these kids go to the teachers, there should be some kind of mediation between all parties involved,” she said. “Kids lose faith in the system if they’re going to teachers and nothing can be done. The BHS principal said that anyone who walks out will be suspended. Kids wanted to peacefully protest bullying. What’s being done about her being bullied?”

Regardless of district action, or inaction according to parents, both daughters weren’t going to wait around for someone else to help them. Lidia’s daughter drafted the printed literature to distribute, and Holly’s daughter created a petition at change.org.

The online petition, posted publicly by Ellie, has received 84 votes so far, with a total of 100 being sought. Her reason wasn’t “so much of being safe, but I’ll feel better as a person if I wasn’t attacked in school for my skin color,” she explained in the petition. She went on to request that “the student who has been racist to a lot of students at my school and me” be removed from school. 

“It’s not fair that students who have been attacked with racism by this person go to school and not know if this person is going to say those things again,” she said, adding that it’s not acceptable.  

Sherri’s Story …
For Sherri’s daughter, she opted to get physical. After dealing with a boy’s ongoing sexual harassment in her junior year, the girl slapped him in the face after first attempting to confront the bullying by reporting it to teachers, Sherri said. The end result was punishment for both sides. She got two days of in-school suspension and was suspended from school for one day. The boy was given two days of suspension. 

Sherri referred to a program that she believes isn’t being well promoted by the district. Sources of Strength, a peer-to-peer mentoring program, offers viable emotional support for troubled students, she said. Due to last year’s pandemic and kids staying home, this program isn’t well known in the district community, she said. 

Sources of Strength is a high school group with the message “We Belong!” It initiated a March 2021 campaign in the district newsletter. Sources of Strength is a suicide prevention program with approximately 70 BHS student members, called peer leaders, and six adult advisors, the newsletter stated.

Holly plans to keep her daughter out of school and online for the remainder of this year. She plans to wait and see “how this year plays out.”

“She is extremely bright and is doing higher-level classes at 15 … so she can get out of school as soon as possible because it is so stressful,” the proud mom said. “There are some good teachers there, some good people there, but all it takes is one rotten apple to spoil the bunch.”

Top photo: Batavia PD's resource officer worked at the school during the closure on Dec. 3 and another officer happened to be at the school at the time the photo was taken. Photo by Howard Owens.

Batavia City Schools’ officials respond to criticism of inadequate efforts to quell bullying

By jfbeck_99_272012
Dec 9, 2021, 8:00am

Editor’s Note: This is the response from Batavia City School District’s Administration regarding parent and student comments about bullying at district schools. The district closed city schools last Friday, Dec. 3, following the perception of threats of violence and after the distribution of pamphlets and a proposed walk-out in protest of what students believed was a lack of response to bullying.The district closed after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media. Per a press release issued on Dec. 2, District officials "worked in close collaboration with the Batavia Police Department and made the decision to close the schools out of an abundance of caution."

To read what the parents had to say about bullying at Batavia HS, click here.

Contrary to the belief of some families that Batavia City School staff doesn’t care about or respond to bullying adequately enough, there are teachers, counselors, administrators, and even student peers in place to support students in need, Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping says. 

“I think it’s important for parents to know we want to work together. We appreciate parent input,” he said during an interview with The Batavian Wednesday. “The folks here are committed to working with the kids and parents to make this district the best we can.”

Bischoping and Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler agreed that incidents being cited by students do not always have a simple fix.  In fact, they are often “far more complex than that,” Bischoping said. 

He doesn’t deny that there are “true instances” of bullying that are clear-cut violations of the district’s Code of Conduct, however, “these are the ones that are easiest to work with,” he said. 

It is all of the other situations — involving “multiple kids and multiple issues” — that take time to navigate, investigate, decipher and determine who the key players are and what was said and/or done, he said. 

“There’s no immediacy involved with that,” Bischoping said. “There’s no one of these that looks alike; each one we go into with a different approach.”

Some students had reported to their parents instances of name-calling using homophobic and/or racist slurs, and that the incidents weren’t being taken seriously by district staff.

Kesler offered a rebuttal: These matters are treated with confidentiality, he said, and therefore information is often kept private while staff investigates the situation. 

“We do look into discrimination on any level; it isn’t anything that we tolerate,” Kesler said. “My recommendation is that if a parent calls somebody and they don’t feel the situation has been dealt with, call again. Once we’re made aware of the situation, we know our responsibility is to take care of it. Our goal is for the situation not to happen again.”

Some parents complained that their children were offered opportunities to leave the classroom and remove themselves from their accused bullies. The parents didn’t feel it was fair to remove their child from the classroom or to offer safe space at a counselor’s office, where the alleged bullies were as well. That’s where things can get dicey since counselors are also trying to talk with the accused bullies to try and rectify the situation, he said. 

Board of Education President Alice Benedict feels confident that district leaders are responding to family concerns appropriately.

"I talked to Interim Superintendent Bischoping several times, and he reassures me that available counselors and teachers are contending with lots of questions of students and their complaints of bullying," Benedict said. "I think they are doing all they can. It can be overwhelming for teachers and counselors. It seems the tragic death of one of the students seems to have pushed the students' comments of being bullied."

There has been no confirmation of that student's death being related to bullying, however, many families have linked it to other bullying incidents. District officials had no official comment about the death, but have offered condolences to the family at prior board meetings.

What is bullying?
According to the district’s Code of Conduct, the Dignity for All Students Act (pages 15 and 16) “makes sure students are learning how to get along, work together, and respect differences in schools that are safe and welcoming to all.” 

“The District strictly prohibits discrimination, harassment and/or bullying against any student, by employees or students, that creates a hostile school environment by conduct, or by threats, intimidation or abuse, including cyberbullying, that: a) has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional and/or physical well-being; or b) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety; or c) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause physical injury or emotional harm to a student; or d) occurs off school property and creates or would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment, where it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property,” the Code states.

“Such conduct shall include, but is not limited to: acts based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity or expression) or sex,” it states.

There are students that claim to have been so disturbed and disrupted by the name-calling that they left school and enrolled in a BOCES remote learning program that is completely online. Kesler estimated there to be 25 students enrolled in the program at this time for various reasons that also include parental concerns about the transmission of COVID-19. He would like students to remain in school, but the online program is another option, he said. 

Where to turn for help
The district provides four counselors at the high school and another counselor who is shared between the middle and high schools, and additional counseling or social work support is being actively sought, Bischoping said. Part of the American Rescue Plan Act funds of $5 million will go toward supports of instructional and mental health counseling, and other Covid-19 related needs, such as air purifiers, he said. 

Other resources include:

  • Sources of Strength is a peer-to-peer mentoring program led by a faculty advisor. (See Parents seek help for their bullied children.) “We’re encouraging students not to share publicly another student’s story, but if they’re aware (another student is troubled) … we have an emotional/social learning team,” Kesler said. SOS members may refer a student to that team, which can support the student with “reflective and restorative” measures to help them learn positive behaviors and recognize what to be aware of to deal with mental health challenges. 

    The We Belong campaign was to bring awareness to breaking stereotypes and being tolerant of all people, the newsletter stated. It focuses on inclusion and acceptance, without regard to race, religion, gender, culture, or other differences.

    “Instead, members work to encourage their peers to be proud of who they are and to find strength in the positive characteristics they hold,” it stated. “In line with the District's mottos of belonging together and remaining strong, the Sources of Strength group kicked off the campaign with a mural in the BHS entrance stating, ‘We, the Blue Devils, Belong Together.’”

    Throughout March, Sources of Strength members planned to reach out to the student body in a variety of ways, including shared, student-led videos and a lunchtime program aimed to reach as many individual students as possible. A wall art display represents how the entire student body creates one picture all together, regardless of differences, the newsletter stated.

  • The parent connection. School officials encourage parents to speak up about concerns. Call the district at 585-343-2480, Ext. 2000 for the high school. “If a parent knows the child is in trouble, we want them to get one-on-one counseling,” Kesler said. 
  • A counselor has been visiting students in social studies class Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the school year, to check-in and talk about how they’re doing. This is an opportunity for students to connect to a counselor and further discuss any issues they have out of the classroom.  “They’re telling students it’s ok to talk to a counselor (teacher, staff, principal) about something,” Kesler said, adding that he has received many emails and phone calls, plus had conversations with at least 100 people that were “positive and supportive” about the recent upheaval of discontent from groups of parents and students. Other students wanted their voices to be heard, he said, which prompted the district to figure out how to support those students that “may be feeling a little isolated.”
  • BOCES has a trained trauma-informed grief counselor that is shared by all BOCES districts and available for mental health crises, such as the death of a district teacher.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the United States. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, call the free and confidential Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For more information, go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org 

COVID Complications …
The pandemic — which closed school, placed students at home on a computer, and created massive social distancing — did its share of damage amongst students, Kesler said. CBS News reported that the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory this week about a mental health crisis that is worsening amongst youth.

The number of youth experiencing depressive and anxiety symptoms, the advisory stated, doubled during the pandemic to 25% and 20% respectively, and in early 2021, emergency room visits for suicide attempts in the U.S. were 51% higher for adolescent girls and  4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time in 2019. 

Kesler agreed that school districts are experiencing a similar pattern, according to counselor reports.

“Students are realizing that their mental health needs more priority, we’ve certainly seen that,” he said.

Video: Zach Watts proprietor of My Cut talks about his new barbershop

By Howard Owens
Dec 8, 2021, 9:56pm
Video Sponsor

Earlier this year, Zach Watts opened his own barbershop, My Cut, at 202 E Main St, Batavia, and this past week, The Batavian interviewed him at his shop.

Photos: 25th Annual Service of Prayer and Remembrance

By Howard Owens
Dec 8, 2021, 9:45pm

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Dozens of area families who lost loved ones over the past year gathered at the First Presbyterian Church in Batavia this evening for a service of prayer and remembrance.

This is the 25th year that H.E. Turner & Co., Bohm-Calarco-Smith, and Burdett & Sanford Funeral Homes brought the service to the community.

Those who suffered the loss of a loved one were able to light a candle and have it on display during the service.

The ecumenical service combined music, prayer, Scripture reading, reading of the names of loved ones and the tolling of the bell in remembrance, and a message of hope by Reverend Dr. Roula Alkhouri.

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Genesee, other rural counties appeal to New York State for at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits

By mikepett
Dec 8, 2021, 7:38pm

News that Monroe County has purchased 750,000 at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits has triggered an expected response from leaders of Genesee and other rural counties in the Finger Lakes Region: Where are our test kits?

“We going to continue to beat the drum” for financial support from New York State to have access to as many test kits as needed, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers said during this afternoon’s County Legislature meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

Landers said members of the Finger Lakes Region group of administrators, public health officials and legislators are advocating for “a similar allotment” – enough test kits for distribution among their residents.

“Erie and Monroe counties got additional CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act money,” Landers said. “We have emailed the state and the response we got is that they (too) are having a hard time procuring them.”

On Tuesday, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello announced that 250,000 rapid test kits will be used for school-aged children and the other 500,000 will be given to towns, villages and the City of Rochester.

Landers said he believes that more in-home testing is “one way to lessen the spread,” adding that he is confident that residents possess the knowledge to administer the tests and the willingness to take appropriate action in the case of a positive COVID test.

On another front, Landers said that Jan. 5, 2022 is the target date for the processing of the bond resolution that will fund the new county jail on West Main Street Road. He said the county expects to issue construction bids at the end of January, award the bids in March and break ground in April.

The legislature approved the following appointments:

  • Gary Graber, Darien, Parks, Recreation & Forest Advisory Committee, 12/9/21-3/31/24.
  • Lynn VanDerBeck,. Byron, Office for the Aging Advisory Council, 1/1/22-12/31/24.
  • Dr. Javeed Mir, Batavia, 1/1/22-8/14/22; Wendy Haywood, Bergen, 1/1/22-12/31/22; Kathleen Antonelli, Batavia, 12/8/21-12/31/25; Vernon Saile, Byron, 12/8/21-12/31/25, Mental Health Community Services Board.

Solemn Evening Prayer in the presence of the relics of the saints at Slomba Hall

By Olivia Bailey
Dec 8, 2021, 5:44pm

Join Ascension Parish for an evening of prayer in honor of the consecration of the altar. The night of prayer, taking place at Slomba Hall this Friday, is open to everyone and starts at 7 o'clock.

Public prayer is a common act for Christian churches whenever a church has been built, renovated or restored. This is due to the tradition of incorporating holy relics into the church or altar. Christian churches contain objects or bones of a holy person, including saints or important Christian figure.

Ascension Parish asks the public to gather and “pray with the Saints to ask for their intercession and for their blessing,” according to a press release from the parish.

Some of the saints that have been enshrined in the reliquary, or container for holy relics, include the bones of St. Stanislaus Kostka, S.J., St. Maximillian Kolbe and Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, and more.

The following day, the relics will be moved to the altar.

 

Planners to review revised site plan for 99 Main St.

By mikepett
Dec 8, 2021, 1:25pm

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The Genesee County Planning Board on Thursday is expected to review a revised site plan submitted by smartDESIGN Architecture for exterior changes at 99 Main St., Batavia -- the future site of the Buffalo Implants and Periodontics office.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at County Building 2 on West Main Street Road.

According to documents submitted by project manager Todd Audsley, further changes in the façade design and elevation are necessary due to problems with product and subcontractor availability.

Specifically, the new plan calls for construction of “a site-built wood-framed storefront wrapped in exterior break metal, with a metal standing seam skirting at the second floor line, which forms a small hood over the recessed entry.”

The original concept was an aluminum storefront with a fabric awning over the recessed doorway.

County planning staff is recommending approval of the revision since it still conforms with the City of Batavia’s Design Guidelines in the Central Commercial (C-3) District.

The $1.1 million renovation and restoration of the historic, three-floor, 7,500-square-foot building is part of the New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The dental practice is on the first floor while the second floor is being developed for commercial office space and the third floor will include two two-bedroom market rate apartments.

Another referral of note on Thursday’s agenda is a site plan review and request for a special use permit for an Amherst company to erect two wind turbines at 2311 Bennett Road in the Town of Darien.

Whitecap Electric, LLC, is looking to install a pair of wind turbines of up to 2.5 megawatts each with a total height of approximately 450 feet. The bottom of the blade would be more than 30 feet above any obstruction within a 250-foot radius.

The $6 million project is earmarked to comply with the 5-megawatt cap for net metering in New York and will be connected to the grid under the Community Distributed Generation compensation scheme.

County planning staff is recommending approval with modifications focusing on a proper decommissioning plan, visual impact study and bird analysis, stormwater pollution prevention plan and application for a 9-1-1 Address Verification with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office.

Photo: Revised design of the facade at 99 Main St., Batavia. Courtesy of Genesee County Planning Department.

Three-year-old lost her stuffed giraffe on Liberty Street

By Howard Owens
Dec 8, 2021, 1:05pm

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Three-year-old Alana Marie is missing her stuffed giraffe, which has been her constant companion since she was born.

"It means the world to her and she has been so upset since losing it," said her mother Cortney Edwards.

Edwards said it was lost on Liberty Street in Batavia sometime between 2:45 and 3:15 p.m. yesterday.

If found, call (585) 356-5818.

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