Police get tough near Schenectady school
Zero-tolerance policy is response to recent afternoon violence
SCHENECTADY Police are now enforcing a zero-tolerance policy near Mont Pleasant Middle School in an attempt to get students to behave.
After dismissal, roving groups of students have gotten into fights, thrown rocks at cars and houses and in one case kicked in a window and broke into a house to attack the occupant.
Until now, police have simply sent students on their way, citing department policy of not arresting 12-year-olds for minor crimes.
Now that will change. Those who decide to break the law in even the most minor way will be sent to Family Court, police say.
“I told them to take a zero-tolerance approach, even to violations,” Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said. “I’d like to get them into Family Court. Obviously, we’re hoping to correct the behavior. This is the forum to help them.”
Only in very serious cases do police usually arrest children, Kilcullen said. A child burglarized Newest Lunch last week and was arrested, he said, but children fighting last month in a large mob near the middle school were simply disbursed.
That was a reasonable response for a one-time incident, he added. But police have now been called to the school every single day at dismissal, he said.
Parents said the chaos has some children scared of going to school. Abubeker Ali, 13, was so frightened Monday that he said he wished he could go back home — to Yemen.
“The bully, he pushed me into the lockers,” he said, explaining that another boy demanded that he fight and mocked him when he wouldn’t throw a punch.
“He said, ‘Are you scared?’ I said, ‘No, but I don’t want a problem with the school.’ ”
So the boy punched him, he said.
“It’s really bad,” Ali said softly. “In my country, they don’t do that. They don’t want to fight anybody.”
Bharath Arjoon, a family friend who drives Ali home from school every day, said he was stunned when the boy said he wished he could go back to Yemen.
“Imagine that. This is America. The land of opportunity. What kind of environment are we creating here?” he said.
Arjoon wrote the schools Superintendent Laurence Spring a letter demanding changes. If nothing improves, he said, he will rally parents to withdraw their children from the school.
He said his daughter, an eighth-grader, is too scared to learn.
“My daughter is very stressed out. Most of the kids, all they talk about all day is who they’re going to beat up that afternoon. ‘Who they’re going to jump,’ that’s the words they use,” Arjoon said. “It’s inhibiting their learning if they’re stressed out by worrying about fights.”
Other children have taken to hiding in the school until most of the other students have left. Vickram Naraine’s son was so frightened by a recent mob fight outside the school that he went back inside, Naraine said.
He hurried to the school to escort his son home safely, and only then would the 12-year-old venture outside.
“Every day, I take him home,” Naraine said.
Rajin Atischand also picks up his children now, after they told him they were terrified.
“My kids are worried if they’re going to make it out, if they’re going to get home alive,” said Atischand, who has two daughters at the school.
Some parents have had enough. Ramdass Goolcharran is considering moving so his daughter, 12, can attend a safer school.
Students have broken two windows at his house by throwing rocks after school, he added. They threw rocks at his car, too, so now he either walks to school to take his daughter home or parks on side streets where the children don’t go.
“In this neighborhood, you can’t grow up kids here,” he said. “Of course I’m thinking of leaving.”
Other parents said their children have asked if they could switch schools. But parents said they think the better solution is to solve the problems at Mont Pleasant, rather than spreading the problem to many schools by disbursing the students.
Spring has suspended as many as 18 students from Mont Pleasant in an attempt to nip the problem in the bud. But the fights persisted, and now police park on the front lawn at dismissal to discourage misbehavior. School officials and probation officers also walk up and down the sidewalk trying to maintain order.
On Tuesday, the weeks of effort seemed to be having an effect. With the exception of a brief shoving match in the middle of the street, students walked home calmly.