‘Safe environment’ sought in city schools

OBSERVER Photo by Jo Ward. Dunkirk Teachers' Association President Valarie Csont spoke of the union's concerns about a safer school district Wednesday at Dunkirk's Board of Education workshop.

Dunkirk Teachers Association (DTA) representatives called on city school administrators at Wednesday’s Board of Education workshop, to “provide students and staff a safe school environment free of violence and intimidation.”

The advisory, sent to the OBSERVER by the teachers’ union, comes in the aftermath of a fatal stabbing that occurred on Lincoln Avenue on May 15. Jefrena C. Brown, 15, died in the incident and police are searching for a woman in her 20s in connection with the stabbing.

At the meeting that night, Valarie Csont, president of the DTA, teacher at School No. 3 and parent, spoke of her and the union’s concern over what the next move would be.

“While I understand and realize that this did not happen on school grounds it does affect our schools immensely,” Csont stated. “I was an acting site coordinator at the time and I sent children home to a crime scene. We were not notified.”

“The safety of our children and our staff is so important,” Csont continued. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to forgive myself for allowing that to happen, but it was out of my control.”

Csont spoke of an informal meeting that had taken place in the fall, where parents and students asked for things, such as a tip line. Kids also mentioned that they don’t feel safe and what was the district going to do about it.

The district now does have a tip form on their website, but no phone number– and that concerns Csont, because she is concerned for homes that have no internet access.

“We need to work together and figure out how we can prevent this from happening again,” Csont added. “We’re supposed to provide a safe and caring environment for our students. We tell them it’s safe, we tell them we care, but our actions speak louder than words. Right now, I know our students don’t feel safe, our teachers don’t feel safe. I have many statements from buildings, not all, but some, that tell me that they don’t feel safe. If my teachers are not feeling safe in the building, what are my students feeling?”

According to Csont, not every building was notified. She said there are safety plans, but many teachers don’t have them or even know what to do when things occur.

“This is not the first time that things have happened in the community that we have not been notified, and that really needs to change,” Csont said. “We need to be better. We promised these kids that we’re going to be better, so I’m asking you can we please get together, can you talk to the teachers, can you get together with the community, can we reach out to Buffalo or Jamestown? What are they doing that are making their schools safer? Is there something that we can do together to address this issue so that we can make change happen? And before the next incident — not after. Everything starts at the school and it all ends up back at the school.”

The board listened to her statement, but no comment was made in response.

The union’s comments are directly in opposition to the message sent by the superintendent’s office when the OBSERVER reached out last Friday. In answering the call, an office secretary said abruptly: “That (stabbing) had nothing to do with the school. It happened a couple of days ago.”

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