“Incidents,” A Word That Is Used Too Loosely! 

By Terrance L. Heard /Buffalo Public Schools Board Member At-Large

There were a few chaotic scenes involving Buffalo Public School students on Wednesday, February 10, 2022, that you may have heard about. The most publicized ‘incident’ was the brutal stabbing of a 14-year-old student, another student that was grazed by gunfire and the shooting of a brave 24-year-old security officer who without any hesitation, put his life in danger to save McKinley High School students that were at the scene. About the same time, there was another police report about a 16-year-old student who was severely injured from a knife assault in downtown Buffalo.

These life-threatening attacks were referred to as “incidents.”

The morning after these disturbing occurrences, students at Math, Science & Technology High School (M.S.T.), arrived at school only to see and hear reports about a deceased adult male that was lying on the sidewalk about two blocks away from their school. This ‘incident’ is very disturbing, but the real story occurred a couple days earlier. Sadly, on Monday, February 7th the same students were on lockdown at the school due to a long 5-minute gun shootout that occurred next to the school that left the students and the staff traumatized.

Once again, these painstaking encounters are called ‘Incidents’! As a School Board Member At-Large, I receive a lot of many calls from parents, teachers, principals, students, and stakeholders with tearful concerns about the safety of our students and the state of education in the city of Buffalo. As the only African male serving on the Buffalo School Board, I also receive an abundance of calls concerning issues that occur at charter schools. These parents know that I am from the East Side of Buffalo and can relate to their concerns and have a passion to resolve all issues that affect our children and our community.

The violence has become a major health and wellness issue. I recall just a couple of months ago, on August 16, 2021, a 17-year-old girl was shot and killed on Buffalo’s Westside and a 17-year-old boy was killed on Sept. 30th in the Buffalo’s Kensington neighborhood. This violence was followed by an October 20, 2021 killing of another 17-year-old Buffalo teen on Buffalo’s Eastside.

Buffalo averages about 50 homicides per year, but we exceeded that threshold with 65 reported cases last year and an alarming 287 reported shooting victims. From Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2021, eighteen of our shooting victims were 17 years old or younger according to department statistics. What the statistics doesn’t account for is the number of gun shootouts, near misses and life threatening experiences that our children face from day to day.

Last year, 18 school aged children were killed in the city of Buffalo which begs the question, what is being done about these “incidents”? Do you think that sending a crisis intervention team into a school building for a couple of hours will have a long-lasting impact on our children and their mental state? How do we expect for these children to come to school and actually learn under these circumstances?

Children also want to know why they are being punished when they are caught with a weapon? Children feel that they are justified to carry a weapon for their personal safety and as a deterrent from possible crimes that are often afflicted upon them. Gang recruitment are at an all-time high and assaults on children are more than a growing concern.

Other questions that one should ask is, what is normalcy and whether this violence impacting youth is the new normal? There is a reason why the students call the City of Buffalo, “Beirut, New York,” this appears to be the new normalcy, for at least now.

If you try to answer some of the questions raised begin by looking at our children and their education with a Trauma Informed Lens perspective. The next step will include researching methods that include coping skills, training for the students and then infuse it with Critical Thinking practices to help them make healthy choices.

I have taken a lot of phone calls from concerned citizens across the state about policing the schools and the trend is that our senior stakeholders prefer police presence and more youthful stakeholders are saying no and calling for Restorative Justice practices to be administered across the District.

Whatever your opinion is, it can be concluded that a shared solution is needed concerning security measures in order to address the regions sub-par attendance levels which effects our enrollment and test scores. All children and personnel should be able to attend their school of choice and have a fair and equitable opportunity at education without the fear of bullying and learning in hostile environments.

Each decision that we make moving forward as a Board and a District are critical decisions and every future scholar must count. We can also conclude that the Covid-19 virus is not an excuse and can’t be the blame for any further ‘Incidents’ moving forward.