Schenectady High responds to claims of uptick in violence

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Schenectady High School faces several claims of an uptick in violence on campus. After a longtime teacher and a parent spoke out, the superintendent wants to assure that changes are being made to solve the allegedly escalating issue.

Chris Ognibene has been a Schenectady High teacher for 21 years. Last week, he stood in front of the school board and begged for help.

“I want you to imagine going to work in fear every day. That’s what’s happening here at this building. Violent incident after violent incident,” Ognibene said.

He went on to share a list of disturbing incidents at the school: Everything from a student threatening a teacher with racial slurs to outside community members entering the building to assault a student.

On the same day of the school board meeting, Ognibene stated that six to eight students from different classes continuously disrupted one of his exams. 

“As I approached the door and asked them to leave, one kid butted up against my chest, called me the N-word, and said he was going to do something very bad to me,” Ognibene said. 

Ognibene said teachers are at their breaking points with student behavior, and many staff members want to quit. 

“There is a mental health crisis in America, and two years of COVID-19 has made it exponentially worse,” Ognibene said. “In SHS, it is manifesting itself in violence by students and community members.”

Albert Manwaring—a Schenectady High Parent—sent News10’s Stephanie Rivas a video of a student physically assaulting his son in the hallway. 

The video revealed a student proclaiming, “we are about to jump someone,” as he walked toward Manwaring’s son from behind. The student went on to punch and kick his son as he fell to the ground. 

According to Manwaring, the school alerted him to the first incident on September 29 around 1:30 p.m. The school contacted him again around 3:00 p.m. to explain that the same teens had “jumped” his son again. 

Manwaring told News10’s Stephanie Rivas that his wife had passed a few weeks ago from complications with leukemia, and he was already concerned about his son’s well-being. 

“He had just buried his mother the night before. Now, I’m going to fear for his life because he’s gotten jumped twice now,” Manwaring said. “What’s going to happen on the way home?”

The Schenectady City Schools Superintendent, Anibal Soler, Jr., said he’s taking these incidents to heart. 

“You know, education, we just thought we could turn it back on like normal after the pandemic,” Soler said.

Soler admitted that going back to fully in-person learning has been a difficult transition for students and staff. Schenectady students 7-12 grade were almost entirely remote from March 2020 until the beginning of the 2021 school year.

“So that’s a long time to be away from structured environments,” Soler said. “Social media has added a new variable to the game. Kids think they can say and do things and not feel like there are consequences.”

In response, Schenectady High is working on a “Student Expectation Reset” to crack down on student accountability. On October 12, the school sent a letter to parents/guardians detailing the behavioral expectation of their student and how this needs to be a collaboration between school and home to make improvements happen.

The high school will switch to block scheduling starting next Monday, going from eight periods a day to four. Soler is hopeful that this will limit the amount of time kids spend in hallways and keep them more focused on education.

Conversely, Ognibene said block scheduling would put more strain on teachers. However, he’s still hopeful the new superintendent has heard his concerns and will tackle what he believes are much-needed staffing and safety issues.

“Your legacy of inaction can be changed,” Ognibene told the school board. “You still have some chance to do some good. This is your chance.”

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