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BTF leader urges more security at Bennett High

WBFO News file photo

The leader of the Buffalo Teachers union says there is a lack of security at one city high school.  In this Focus on Education report, WBFO'S Eileen Buckley says a recent fight between two Bennett High School students has Buffalo Teachers Federation president Phil Rumore calling for better security inside the school.

There is growing safety concern for students and teachers at Bennett High School.  Late last month Bennett teacher Kevin Coady tried to break up a fight between two female students.  That fight was captured on video, showing the teacher getting hit as the two teenagers tried to punch one another.

"It's was terrible, I mean here's a teacher trying to break out a fight and then they start beating him up," said Rumore in a WBFO News interview.

Rumore and teachers have issued repeated complaints about security at the school. Several teachers appeared earlier this year before the school board to speaking out against troubles at the school.  The union conducted an anonymous survey late last year revealing daily fights, assaults and possible weapons and drug use.

"We have complained about the security at Bennett before, in fact I sent a letter to the Superintendent and members of the board, saying we don't have enough security officers," said Rumore.

Bennett is one of the city's failing schools. Last month the state rejected the district's turnaround plan for Bennett. Rumore is highly critical of Principal Terry Ross.  Rumore doesn't believe Ross is an effective leader saying teachers told him there is a complete "lack of discipline. Rumore fears for the safety of students and teachers.

"If there's a lack of discipline in the school, what ultimately happens is somebody gets hurt, because the kids think they can get away with anything whatever they want to do," said Rumore. "It is the worst situation I've seen. He's never been a principal of a high school."

WBFO News reached out to the District for comment.  Early Thursday evening a school spokeswoman said the district does not tolerate any child hitting another.  Physical altercations are against the District's Code of Conduct and students are punished with suspension.  The District claims two security officers were already stationed outside Bennett for dismissal when the fight broke out, but responded. The District does not want teachers trying to break up fights and says teachers and staff should notify security immediately.

Bennett is part of the Buffalo's Promise Neighborhood, a public private program working to improve academic performance at three city schools. But in interviewing Rumore, he revealed that M&T Bank and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood are cutting ties with Bennett. The program put a request for proposals for Bennett to find a new partner for the school.  The program assisted in the hiring of the Bennett principal.

WBFO News spoke with M&T Corporate Communications manager Michael Zabel. He explained that they are currently seeking an RFP for Bennett given troubles at the school.

The Westminster Foundation sent a letter to Schools Superintendent Pamela Brown explaining the decision dated May 2nd.

The letter stated "circumstances beyond our control have prompted a refocusing" of the organizations efforts. BPN has invested nearly $2 million over the last two years to help promote academic achievement and hired a wraparound services coordinator.  It also placed six AmeriCorps members in the school and hired three attendance teachers.  But with the School district's recent plans to close Bennett and re-launch it, an RFP has been issued seeking a new partner for the school.

BPN said will not continue providing services at Bennett after the end of this current school year.  The state has threatened to shut the school down if a new turnaround plan isn't presented by September first.

Highgate Heights Public School 80 and the Westminster Community Charter School are also part of Promise Neighborhood.

Rumore is calling on the city school board to figure out how to reorganize Bennett for the safety of its students and teachers.