Batavia High School senior and school board student representative Kylie Tatarka prepared board members Thursday that there were both positive and negative items in her monthly report.
The positive was that many school activities — high school football games, boy and girl swim teams, a production of Sherlock Holmes — “have been very successful,” Tatarka said.
“And now, due to the pamphlet,” she said during the board’s December meeting at BHS. “Students have expressed a lack of safety due to that situation, which was addressed by our administration.”
That “situation” was two weeks ago, when some students, who were frustrated by what they believed was inaction to bullying by the district, created written materials and began to organize a walk-out. Social media buzzed with comments as the school ended up closing for a day following the perceptions of threats of violence and after the distribution of those materials. The district closed Dec. 3 after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media.
On the plus side, high school counselors visited classrooms to understand how students have been feeling, Tatarka said, and how the district could potentially make them feel safer.
“This process went well, where many kids said they finally felt heard by this administration,” she said. “Students go through a lot of stress, especially right now, and we need adults to help go through this together. Communication and trust is key.”
As a senior with little time left in school before graduation, Tatarka still looks forward to seeing a change, she said, “especially for my friends, my peers and my own sibling who goes to school with me.” She was also speaking up for those younger classmates that will remain in school behind her.
“So I urge you all to think about students first,” she said.
High School Principal Paul Kesler reiterated the student ex-officio's remarks about how counselors went into each social studies class to give all students an opportunity to express their feelings, thoughts and concerns.
“Their struggle right now is real, they’re feeling a sense of loss in many ways, our staff is feeling that also,” Kesler said. “This is a good time to get some feedback on that.”
There were positive and negative comments, and suggestions to be followed up on next year, he said. Bullying specifically wasn’t the hot topic, he said, whereas the effects of COVID-19 and the related distancing policy this past year seemed to have a bigger impact on students, he said.
“A lot of feedback came back in terms of student’s mental health. I have seen that mental health needs have increased. Students have felt the loss of activities, like not having traditional school dances,” he said, listing some of the students’ suggestions. “They talked about public affirmation of the great things that they’re doing; publicize those on announcements more. They want more classroom meetings. It’s important to hear from marginalized students.”
Another suggestion, indicative of youth’s technological savvy, was to create a check-in sheet with a bar code so that students can remain anonymous while reaching out for help and/or to share concerns about someone else. The feedback so far was a good start, Kesler said, and counselors will be revisiting with students in a similar way in late January.
“All in all, I’m really proud of our students,” he said. “They’ve been really resilient in difficult situations.”
While on the topic of student safety, Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping referred to a TikTok message that has been circulating nationally. The Federal Bureau of Investigations and law enforcement concluded that any such threat is unfounded, he said. City police are aware of the post and will monitor the situation, he said.
The popular site TikTok has suggested that school shootings are to take place in a nationwide TikTok school threat challenge on Friday, apparently titled National Shoot Up Your School Day.
The post encourages students to make threats of violence against their school. Some districts are reportedly taking heavier precautions, such as Scotia-Glenville Central School and West Genesee in Syracuse.
Top photo: Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler reviews the steps taken so far to connect with students, hear them out and develop a list of potential remedies for the void left by COVID-19 protocols. Photo by Howard Owens