A serious staffing shortage in the Poughkeepsie City School District (PCSD) has caused an uptick in violence among students this past year, particularly among middle schools and high schools within the district, according to district teachers, administrators, and other staff. There have been fights, a stabbing, a shooting outside of the high school, a BB gun found in the middle school, and teachers being shoved by students, to name some incidents just this school year.
The City of Poughkeepsie PBA Facebook page reported that on March 22nd an 11-year-old student posted on Snapchat that there would be shootings in the schools. Schools abruptly shut down in response and local detectives and the FBI investigated, with the student due to appear in court shortly after. This was one in a series of school closings this year, further reducing learning time for students.
No fewer than five PCSD unions have called on district officials to take immediate action to quell school violence—the Poughkeepsie Public Schools Teachers Association, Poughkeepsie Public School Administrators Association, Civil Service Employees Association Local 867, Poughkeepsie Public School Paraprofessional Association and Poughkeepsie Public School Office Personnel Association. They created an action plan to take immediate steps to create a safe working and learning environment:
- Establish bi-monthly meetings between union leaders and the superintendent to foster continuous communication.
- Form a team of parents, union leaders, security, and school administrators to create, implement, and monitor policies to improve the educational environment.
- Increase staffing to immediately mitigate violence and support students who are dealing with various forms of trauma.
PCSD Superintendent Dr. Eric Jay Rosser generally supported the unions, stating, “Their willingness to have greater involvement will enable the entire community to galvanize its collective efforts to address the long-standing issues that our children have continually faced.”
Dr. Felicia Watson, President of the school board, emphasized the efforts of the district’s SAVE (New York State Safe School Against Violence in Education) committee, required by state law and established 21 years ago, stating, “The SAVE Committee in the Poughkeepsie City School District is composed of parents, students, teachers, building-level leadership, district staff, and a City of Poughkeepsie School Resource Officer. The SAVE Committee meets twice a month to discuss the district-wide safety plan, safety concerns within each school building/the district at large and any needed revisions to the Code of Conduct or district policies.”
Dr. Watson further noted that due to school closures from 2020 through 2022 due to COVID-19, it is difficult to compare the number of incidents to previous years.
PCSD staff and union leaders have been taking their pleas across the district and organizing walk-ins to continue to raise the alarm for more action. Although COVID-19 restrictions are being relaxed, it has become evident that the pandemic has taken a lasting toll on adolescents’ mental health across the country, as reported recently by the CDC, and the PCSD community is not immune to the parallel mental health and violence epidemic.