With yet another mass shooting, a canceled Regents test, extra law enforcement nearby and the swollen availability of counselors for students and staff, life has taken on a new meaning, Superintendent Jason Smith says.
“Every community in this country, big or small, is living in fear that this could happen to them, and if we continue on this path with no meaningful change, it will, inevitably, happen again,” Smith said during an interview with The Batavian. “Reactions from our students and staff have run the gamut from sad, frustrated, hopeless, and angry, to fear. I don’t believe we’ve become desensitized. I guarantee every family member held their child a little bit longer before sending them off to school today. I know I did.”
Within a day, Smith had written and issued a letter to his district in response to the latest shooting that left 19 people dead at a school in Texas. The city school district set up resources for students and staff to use in the aftermath of mixed emotions. School should be a place of “learning and enlightenment,” he said, and “not fear.”
“Sadly, this is not the first school shooting that has occurred in my years as an educator, but I can certainly only hope and pray it will be the last,” his letter stated. “In these times of grief, confusion, and fear, we want to be a source of comfort for our students and help guide them through the questions and emotions they are bound to have.”
The Batavian asked if the latest incident causes any response in terms of security and district protocols. He is confident in the current polices while also checking back to see if there are improvements to make, he said.
“Our top priority has always been and will be to keep our students and staff safe,” he said. “To that end, each school in our district regularly conducts lockdown drills as required by New York State. We maintain a strong partnership with the City of Batavia Police Department, have security aides in each building, and a district-wide school resource officer. We are constantly reviewing our safety procedures and will do so again to ensure the safest environment possible.”
Administrators met with counselors and each school principal, and while Smith was at John Kennedy Intermediate, he couldn’t say there was a visible shift in families’ reactions, though everyone is reacting in different ways.
“I saw parents dropping off students, and there wasn't any kind of physical reaction,” he said, adding that resources were given to staff in case they were needed. “We know we tried to give our staff information. But I’d say, it is a fairly temperate reaction. I had a couple of parents contact me by email and I'm going to respond to them in the next day or so.”
Genesee County Sheriff’s Office announced this week there would be extra patrols at county schools as a precautionary measure to ensure safety for students. That announcement also included the presence of a school resource officer at each district for another layer of protection. The Batavian asked Smith if he felt the role of a SRO was, in addition to being a community liaison and representative for the police department, capable of staving off a violent attack.
“That's the expectation, that if something were to happen, the SRO would play an active role in that situation,” he said. “I mean, they do other things … they're designed to be a community resource. But, you know, they’re also a police officer, and if stuff like that were to happen here, God forbid, the expectation would be that the SRO would respond.”
State Education Department Commissioner Betty Rosa issued a letter to school districts notifying them of a change to upcoming Regents exams. After a thorough review of the history exam, especially on the heels of recent violent events, the department decided to cancel the history Regents for this year, she said.
“As we look for ways to support our students and our fellow community members following this incomprehensible tragedy, the Department is committed to preparing our children to become active members of their communities who raise each other up and work together for the common good. We are enormously grateful to our educators as they help their students navigate and process the unthinkable,” Rosa stated. “In the wake of the heinous mass shooting in Buffalo, the Department is taking numerous steps to explore potential areas of support for students and schools across the state. Such actions include having content experts from the Department, in partnership with NYS educators, review all June 2022 Regents Exams, which have already been printed and packaged for shipment to schools. During that review, our experts determined that there is content on the new Regents Examination in United States History and Government that has the potential to compound student trauma caused by the recent violence in Buffalo.”
Even though the exam was drafted by NYS-certified social studies teachers and field-tested to confirm that the exam's content is educationally sound, the tragedy in Buffalo “has created an unexpected and unintended context for the planned assessment,” she said.
Missing this exam should not negatively affect graduation tracks for students, Smith said. The SED and Board of Regents will approve a waiver that officially excuses them from taking that particular test, he said.
“So it's not going to impact students,” Smith said.
The Batavian had also asked Smith if he felt that, as these tragedies pile up, do students and families become more numbed by the frequency. He doesn’t think so, but strives to encourage others to remain wide-eyed.
“We must fight the urge to accept these situations as a way of life, and we cannot let ourselves become desensitized,” he said. “Our children cannot afford it. We all must stand up and demand better.”
Below is a list of related resources at the city school district:
Jackson Primary Resources:
Sesame Street in Communities resources on Violence
John Kennedy Intermediate Resources:
Talking to Kids About Fear and Violence
Batavia Middle School Resources:
How to Discuss Violence in Schools With Children
After a Crisis: Helping Young Children Heal
Batavia High School Resources:
Talking to Teens About Violence
For Teens: Coping After Mass Violence
General Resources K-12:
Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
Talking to Kids About School Safety
If you would like to speak directly to your child’s counselor or principal, please reach out to:
Jackson Primary: 585-343-2480, ext 4000
John Kennedy Intermediate: 585-343-2480, ext 5000
Batavia Middle School: 585-343-2480, ext 3000
Batavia High School: 585-343-2480, ext 2000
“While we might not have all the answers, we promise to stand with our families and students and listen,” Smith said. “Please take care of each other in moments like these, and please reach out should you or your family need any assistance.”
For the district's emergency response manual, click HERE
Photo: Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith. Submitted photo.