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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Parents of Notre Dame student air complaints about son getting Mohawk shaved off at school

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, education, Notre Dame, schools

An administrator at Notre Dame High School was disciplined more than a month ago for reportedly shaving the head of a student who showed up to school one day sporting a Mowhawk-style haircut.

Vice Principal and Athletic Director Mike Rapone reportedly shaved the head of Lucus Hull in front of other students during homeroom period while in the cafeteria, according to his mother, Denise Hull.

She describes her son as "humiliated" by Rapone's actions and claims that Rapone violated the school's code of conduct by touching her son without permission.

The reprimand Rapone received, confirmed by letters to Hull by the school and the superintendent of the diocese's schools, doesn't go far enough, according to Hull. She wants Rapone terminated.

"Quite frankly, if what is on the code of conduct is correct, then Mr. Rapone has violated it and should be removed from his position with the school," Hull said in an e-mail to The Batavian.

The incident occurred in Sept. 23. Charles Hull wrote a lengthy letter to Principal Joseph Scanlan on Oct. 2 that made several points, including (but not limited to):

  • That while at the Camp Hough Freshman Retreat, Sept. 3-4, Lucas asked Rapone for permission to have a "buzzcut Mohawk style," and Rapone, Hull said, told Lucas he could try it for a day.
  • Lucas, Hull said, reviewed the school uniform policy and assured his parents the haircut was permitted. "Nothing was or is noted in the policy which strictly prohibits any type of Mohawk hairstyle," Hull wrote.
  • Lucus was given the option Sept. 23 to go home for a haircut (which is 12 miles away) or Rapone would cut his hair.
  • About 20 minutes later, Rapone returned to the homeroom, which was held in the cafeteria, and shaved the youth's hair in front of classmates.
  • Among the Hulls' complaints -- that the parents were not contacted about the issue before the Mohawk was shaved off.
  • The Hulls do not feel the public apology by Rapone was sufficient to assuage Lucas or his sister. They called it "damage control" and "less than sincere."

Denise Hull contacted The Batavian, she said, because she felt Notre Dame had failed to address the situation adequately. 

She said she believes the board of directors, which she characterizes as made up primarily of sports boosters and former athletes, are unduly protecting a popular athletic director and successful basketball coach.

Her communications included copies of letters from the school and diocese and a copy of the student handbook.

The handbook, dated July 2014, clearly states "Outlandish hairstyles (e.g. Mohawks, wild colors, etc.)" are prohibited.

The letters clearly state that Rapone was reprimanded, that he and Scanlan must attend sensitivity training, and that the policy for dealing with such situations would be revised.

The letter from Charles Hull to Scanlan indicates that Rapone may have misunderstood the question from Lucas about a "buzzcut Mohawk."

"Mr. Rapone misunderstanding a question does not give him the right to humiliate Lucas," Charles Hull wrote.

Of course, a "buzzcut" and a "Mohawk" are two different styles of haircuts. One involves completely shaving the head, the other leaves a streak of hair down the middle of the scalp.

Denise Hull also said she believes the school is applying a double standard because there are students who have come to school with what might be considered "outlandish" hairstyles.  

We shared one specific complaint with Scanlan (we're avoiding being specific so as not to publicly drag another student into the issue) and Scanlan said, "that's a completely separate issue," but said he couldn't elaborate.

The Hulls also contacted Child Protective Services, which told them, Denise Hull said, this wasn't a CPS issue, and Batavia PD, which investigated and found insufficient evidence to sustain a charge of harassment.

Scanlan said he couldn't comment on a personnel matter. He e-mailed The Batavian the following statement authorized by the school's board of directors:

The incident in question occurred in September, and was promptly and appropriately addressed by the Notre Dame High School Board of Trustees and the school administration.

A student came to school with a mohawk haircut that violated the School’s dress code policy. After the student declined the opportunity to leave school to get his hair cut, the assistant principal cut the student’s hair in the student’s homeroom. The assistant principal has since apologized to the student, his parents, and the school community for his error in judgment in cutting the student's hair in the student’s homeroom before discussing the violation with the student’s parents.

Additionally, the School’s Board of Trustees recently amended to the School's student dress code policy to provide that parents will be consulted prior to any action if a similar situation arises in the future.

This action by the Board, coupled with the previous actions by the School's administration, has fully and thoroughly addressed this situation, and the School will have no further comment on this private matter.

Friday, November 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm

City schools asking district parents to complete online survey

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Schools, education, schools

Press release:

The Batavia City School District is dedicated to providing all students with the educational foundation necessary to succeed in school and in life. To ensure your child's success, we have set high standards that are reflected in what is taught in our classrooms.

We would like to get your feedback about our district. We will use the information provided by all stakeholders in future plans and are asking you to complete the Family Engagement Survey by November 30, 2014. We want to hear your voice regarding Batavia's educational program. Please complete the survey at the link below:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8XV7LLC

Your input is valued and we thank you for taking time to share your thoughts, ideas and aspirations for the Batavia City School District.

Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 11:44 am

BHS officials share concerns, raise awareness about vaping at school

post by Howard B. Owens in Batavia HS, education, schools

There have been four incidents at Batavia High School so far this school year involving students, vaporizers and synthetic drugs, Principal Scott Wilson said.

That isn't an epidemic by any means, but it is a cause for concern and he thinks the local community, and particularly parents and students, should be more aware of some of the possible negative consequences of vaporizers, also known as e-cigarettes.

Wilson organized a community forum in the school's library Wednesday night to help raise awareness.

"It's a concern right now, but I don't want to be a Chicken Little and say the sky is falling," Wilson said. "I also don't want to say the problem is not there, and bury my head in the sand and cross my fingers and hope it all blows away. We have to find the right balance."

Wilson assembled a panel for the forum that included Nancy Haitz, school nurse, Nate Korzelius, teacher, Nick Burk, a teacher and coach, Jennifer Zambito, from GCASA, Rich Schauf, Batavia PD, and Tom Douglas, from the fire department.

Each shared some of their experiences or research into issues surrounding vaping and synthetic drugs.

E-cigarettes were developed as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes. They were designed to be nicotine delivery devices, but without the health consequences of cigarettes, and give smokers a device to smoke in public that is largely unregulated.

The devices were barely available a couple of years ago, and now are commonly sold in retail shops and convenience stores throughout the area.

Not much bigger than a nice ball-point pen, the devices are easy for students to conceal. They've supposedly been hidden by students in bras and spandex undergarments.  

If it were just a matter of students smoking flavored liquid with a little nicotine, that would still be a violation of school rules and not allowed, but the problem is a bit more serious than that, Wilson said.

"We have to assume at this point that the liquid contains a substance that could cause a medical emergency and I have to take a firm stand," Wilson said.

EMTs have been summoned to the school once this year after a medical emergency involving a student who reportedly inhaled synthetic marijuana through a vaporizer.

They way e-cigs entered society, there's a common misperception that they're harmless, Wilson said. 

Both he and Schauf shared stories of talking to parents who bought vaporizers for their children, as young as 13 years old, because they saw them as a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes.

What parents don't realize is that these devices can be used to deliver other chemicals, from ground up prescription pills to a plethora of synthetic drugs that are easily obtained online.

These are often the same drugs or closely related cousins to bath salts -- the drugs that were much in the news two years ago when the country -- and our local community -- were concerned about their health effects.

Zambito described many of the same behaviors and consequences -- paranoia, hallucinations, rapid heart rates, rapid breathing, even seizures.

"Students can experience symptoms that even they themselves are scared of," Zambito said.

One of the biggest concerns, several panelists said, is the possibility of students who think taking a hit from another student's vape is no big deal, without really knowing what chemical is in the e-cigarette.

It could contain a synthetic drug and there's no way to tell from merely looking at it.

"Let that sink in for a moment," Wilson said. "They don't know what is in it because it's in a liquid. That's the real concern. We want to help kids make better choices and never just blindly take that risk."

The difficulty in finding out what chemical might have caused a medical emergency is also a problem for EMTs, said Douglas.

Too much nicotine can cause an elevated heart rate, but so can other chemicals, and that can be an important distinction, Douglas said, as just an example of what EMTs must deal with in these situations.

"We've got them grinding up prescription drugs, THC, to whatever it is they find on the Internet, Douglas said. "From the EMT end, that's what we're dealing with. We can be kind of stymied. What do we treat?"

Korzelius and Burk said they now regularly inspect bathrooms, lifting up ceiling tiles, looking for hidden vaporizers.

In the days of "smoking in the boys' room," there was always a residual odor that would help teachers track down the smokers, but that isn't the case with vaping, and teachers and administrators are struggling to keep a tab on the devices.

Wilson hopes through a public discussion of the issue parents become more aware and more vigilant, but he said teens at BHS are already starting to take the issue seriously.  

"I think most of the kids want to have a healthy, clean and positive school environment," Wilson said. "I totally believe that with all my heart, and students are stepping up and reporting, because they want, not necessarily to get kids in trouble, but keep the school free from these devices. I love that cooperation and even that peer pressure. "

Friday, October 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm

WNY Tech Academy learn some of the ways jobs are created locally

post by Howard B. Owens in byron-bergen, education, schools, WNY Tech Academy

Assemblyman Steve Hawley and John Jakubowski, a workforce development consultant for Genesee County Economic Development Center, spoke to students at the WNY Tech Academy at Byron-Bergen High School this afternoon.

Hawley spoke about how he works in Albany to help get legislation passed and drum up support for projects such as the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park and WNY STAMP.

Cooperation and relationship building is a big part of the job, he said.

"Communication is the key to getting anything done," Hawley said. "It doesn't matter whether it's texting, whether it's e-mailing, whether it's on the phone, but the best sort of communication is what we're doing here today, looking at each other, eyeball-to-eyeball. You know who I am now. I know who you guys are."

Jakubowski, a retired educator, told students about how he uses his expertise to create job-training programs so the companies coming into the Ag Park and STAMP have a local workforce of job-ready applicants when they open their doors.

Monday, September 29, 2014 at 9:37 am

Byron-Bergen names two alumni to hall of fame

post by Howard B. Owens in byron-bergen, education, schools
Elizabeth Findlay David Keller

Press release:

Byron-Bergen Central Schools has named two alumni to the Hall of Fame for 2014.  Elizabeth Findlay (class of 1980) and David Keller (class of 1975) join the ranks of other distinguished Byron-Bergen alumni honored with a place in the Hall of Fame for their achievements after graduation.

The Byron-Bergen Alumni Hall of Fame recognizes the accomplishments of the district’s graduates, providing young people of our district with positive adult role models, showing that graduates of Byron-Bergen can achieve high levels of accomplishment in their lives.  This honor is in its twelfth year and has become part of our school district culture and a permanent reminder to our students about the outcome of hard work and diligence.

This year’s honorees exemplify dedication, leadership and service.

While attending Byron-Bergen Central School District, Miss Elizabeth Findlay participated in National Honor Society, Band, Chorale, Solo Festival and All County Band.  She earned a Bachelor’s Degree from SUNY Fredonia in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Reading from SUNY Brockport.  Miss Findlay started teaching at Byron-Bergen in 1985 as a kindergarten teacher for her first 5 years, becoming a 6th grade teacher in 1990 and continues in that role today.  Miss Findlay has been very active in Byron-Bergen Central School District, participating on many committees, mentoring new teachers, and is a Master Teacher for student teachers.  Miss Findlay also participated in the Bureau of Education and Research in Rochester “using guided reading to help your students become better readers.”  In the 2005-06 school year, she was selected as the Byron-Bergen Middle School Teacher of the Year.  In 2008, she was chosen as the Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year.  Miss Findlay has served on the Gillam-Grant Board of Directors and is a member of the St. James Episcopal Church.  Miss Findlay is a compassionate role model and a constant source of encouragement and inspiration to the youth of the Byron-Bergen learning community.

Mr. David Keller was active in French Club, Future Teachers of America, American Field Service, Yearbook Co-Editor, Swim Club, Concert Band, Marching Band, and hosted an exchange student from Brazil during his time at Byron-Bergen.  In 1975, Mr. Keller joined the U.S. Army Bands Program and studied music under the Navy Master Chief Mike Scairini.  Upon graduation from the School of Music, Mr. Keller served in multiple Army Bands throughout the United States and in Berlin, Germany.  In 1992, Mr. Keller was selected to the prestigious U.S. Army Field Band (the musical ambassadors of the Army) in Washington, D.C.  The culmination of his military career came when he was selected as the first musician to become a Command Sergeant Major.  Sergeant Major Keller (retired) served our nation for over 34 years and while in the U.S. Army Field Band, performed in all 50 states.  He performed for every Presidential Inaugural event from George Bush, Sr. through Barrack Obama.  During his Military career, Mr. Keller received numerous awards and medals.  Mr. Keller has performed with many symphonies and orchestras throughout the United States.  During his long and distinguished military career, Mr. Keller pursued his education at numerous universities and colleges, ultimately studying music with Karl Nitchie, Principle Bassoonist Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  Mr. Keller is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  Mr. Keller is currently the Principle Bassoonist, Genesee Symphony; Bassoonist/Clarinetist, Batavia Concert Band; pit musician for Genesee Community College, Batavia Players, and Byron-Bergen CSD.  Mr. Keller participates in the Byron-Bergen holiday and spring concerts (2011-present), performs in the pit orchestra for musicals, and has assisted with construction/painting of the school musical sets.  Currently, Mr. Keller is the treasurer of the B-B Music Boosters, and has been instrumental in fundraising events for the group; and is an active member of Gillam-Grant.  Mr. Keller enjoys gardening, renovating his 179 year old house in South Byron, taking cruises, and being helpful to others.  Mr. Keller’s loyalty to his community/country, passion for music, and tireless volunteerism make him an outstanding role model for our youth.

The 2014 Byron-Bergen Alumni Hall of Fame inductees will be honored on Friday, October 17, 2014.  They will spend the day visiting with Byron-Bergen students and sharing how their school experience influenced their lives.  After an induction ceremony and dinner that evening, the two honorees will be recognized just prior to the boys’ varsity soccer game.  If you would like to attend the induction ceremony and dinner ($25.00 per person), please contact Patty Gunio at (585) 494-1220, ext. 2329 by October 10, 2014, to find out the details and make a reservation.  (Seating is limited to 80 people.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 8:25 pm

New bus company to deliver students to and from Batavia City schools this year

post by Howard B. Owens in Attica, batavia, City Schools, education, schools

Dozens of bright yellow school buses have been gleaming in the sun (when there is sun) at the corner of Dodgeson Road and Route 98 in Alexander just about all summer long.

The name on the sides of the buses -- Student Transportation of America -- is a new name to Genesee County.

STA is now in town after winning the main transportation contract with the Batavia City School District, which entered into a joint agreement with the Attica School District.

The company purchased a former rigging shop location at 3784 Dodgeson Road in an auction through Bontrager's earlier in the summer.

The state encourages school districts to review and re-bid bus transportation contracts every 10 years, explained Batavia Superintendent Chris Dailey. 

The district experienced many difficulties with the previous contract, Dailey said. 

"The Board of Education decided to bid and increase the accountability and expectations for the bus contractors while also increasing features available to the district with our bus contractors, such as more cameras and GPS," Dailey said. "We bid for 2013-14 but the bid was rejected because of cost and lack of competition."

For 2014-015, the district decided to seek another district for a cooperative bid and reached an agreement with Attica and STA won the bid for regular school transportation, field trips and sports trips.

Attica Bus Company will remain the contractor for transportation of special education students.

BCSD's transportation costs per year is more than $1 million, plus another $731,690 for special education transportation.

"In our contract, the contractor is responsible for all aspects of providing transportation: purchasing and maintaining the fleet, building, staffing, routing of the students, directly handling parent calls," Dailey said.

Two weeks ago, STA announced the release of a mobile device and desktop app that will allow parents to track the location of school buses in the fleet.

"A child’s bus is displayed on a detailed map showing its current location in relation to the child’s stop, so parents can monitor the bus along its route," the company said in a press release.

The app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

“Registering for the SafeStop app is easy,” the company said. “Parents in select schools simply log on to www.schoolwheels.com from any computer or mobile device to register for the app. They then can link to the Apple App Store or Google Play to download on a mobile device.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 9:38 am

The potential for arrest has dramatically reduced fighting at BHS, school officials say

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia HS, crime, education, schools

The message seems to be getting through.

Batavia school officials were alarmed at the number of fights at the high school in 2012-13, so after some consideration, they decided to do what people do to curb criminal activity: call the police.

It was a big policy swing away from the traditional approach of schools, which is to handle problems on campus through internal processes such as counseling and suspensions. 

The new policy means students who fight could be arrested, put through the criminal or family court system and potentially see their names in police blotters (last year, The Batavian redacted the names of under-18-year-old students arrested on campus from arrest reports).

The change in policy had an immediate impact.

In 2012-13, 19 fights at BHS. In 2013-14, three.

"The resources we had available weren't changing views, and we needed to do something in order to change the behavior of kids choosing to fight while at school," said Superintendent Chris Daily during a press conference Tuesday. "We took it to the next level and it's worked."

Daily knew the new policy was having an impact when he was walking through a corridor at BHS and overheard a young lady and young man talking.

"He was obviously a little agitated," Daily said. "I heard her say directly, 'if you get in a fight, they're going to arrest you and then you're not going to be around this weekend and then we are done.' "

The other component of the new program is intervention. It takes some effort by teachers and counselors to become aware of potential issues between students, some reliance on students expressing concern about potential problems (more likely with the elevated consequences), but school officials work at the effort because they would like to mediate conflicts before fights erupt. 

"Peer pressure gets a negative rep, but there is positive peer pressure and the kids, they want to take care of each other," said BHS Principal Scott Wilson. "They are now reaching out to the adults in the building and looking for other ways of resolving conflicts."

In the case of Daily's overheard conversation, a counselor got involved and mediated the dispute. It didn't necessarily make the two potential combatants friends, but it did lessen the tension.

"It's been the hardest part of the rollout," Wilson said. "We've had countless remediations to resolve conflicts. Sometimes students agree to disagree, but they do not engage."

Officials hope students learn through the program that there are better ways to solve problems than fighting.

"The kids are learning, 'I can't handle myself this way,' " Daily said.

A pair of police cruisers showing up at the front entrance of the school as the result of fight gets the students' attention. After the first fight last year, Wilson said, the chatter among students wasn't the usual recap of the altercation; rather, students were talking about the arrests.

"The kids who have been through consequences, either through youth court or criminal court, have been our best advertisements to stop this behavior," Daily said.

The old policy kept students in a bubble, isolated from societal consequences of criminal behavior, and helping students learn that whether on campus or off, they are part of a larger community is one positive of the program, said Police Chief Shawn Heubusch.

"(When a student) leaves the school, he shouldn't have to abide by a different set of standards than he does while he's in the school," Heubusch said. "By applying that consistency and that constant communication, you should see that student carry that over into his personal life and into his community."

The words consistency and communication came up a lot during the press conference.

It was communicated clearly to students at the start of the school year that there would be criminal consequences to fighting, and school officials communicated with parents, particularly parents with children involved in conflicts.

There's also an outreach component to the effort. Heubusch doesn't want students to just see his officers as the long arm of the law. He wants them to understand they're available to help.

Det. Richard Schauf has been a regular presence on campus in the mornings, in uniform, greeting students along side Daily and Wilson.

At first, Schauf said, students were wary (quite a contrast to the warm welcome from elementary school students when Schauf goes to Jackson School), but over the course of the year, many students became cordial and talkative.

Greater police involvement on campus, Schauf said, helps create a better learning environment.

"I don't care what age you are, if you don't feel safe, you're not going to learn," Schauf said. "You're not going to learn because you're going to be more concerned about protecting yourself, and we want students to learn."

The motto at the school is "Take Care of BHS" and the program reinforces that motto, Wilson said.

"It helps us deliver that message and building that culture of 'Take Care of BHS', that fighting is something we don't do in this building," he said.

Daily, a former BHS principal himself, said he has seen the new policy have a real positive impact on school culture.

"By using this, it's really helped our school community heal something that was very disruptive," Daily said. "We're hoping going forward, that message continues, and that message gets out and we're going to eliminate this kind of behavior from school. Kids are going to make mistakes and we're going to be there to help them learn, but we just took another resource and used it to help us get a better result."

Photo: Board Member Pat Burk, Wilson and Daily.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Photos: Kinder Farmin' Day at Grassland Dairy in Pavilion

Evan Stout raised his hand during a tour of the milking parlor at Grassland Dairy in Pavilion this morning because he wanted to know if it hurt the cows when they're milked.

Steven Tudhope assured him they were not hurt.

Evan was one of more than 200 area school children who toured Grassland, owned and operated by Brent Tillotson, as part of Kinder Farmin' Day (formerly Dairy Day), sponsored by the Genesee County Farm Bureau. 

"It's important for today's generation to learn about agriculture because they're going to be tomorrow's consumers and tomorrow's ag workforce," said Barm Sturm of the Farm Bureau.

Tillotson said he hosted the tour this year because he thinks it's important for children to learn firsthand about dairy farming.

"We do as much for kids as we can," Tillotson said. "It's good for them to come out and see that food doesn't just come off a truck."

Steven Tudhope explains to a group of Pavilion students how cows are milked.

Chad Tillotson shows a group of Wolcott School students the different kinds of organic feeds used on Grassland, which is a certified organic dairy farm.

Kara, of Wolcott School, holds a chick.

Melissa Thater with her young goat and a group of children.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Byron-Bergen students get visit from local veterans

post by Howard B. Owens in byron-bergen, education, schools, veterans

Press release:

On May 27, Byron-Bergen first-graders learned about the history and meaning of the United States' flag from people who proudly fought for it – prominent members of the Genesee County American Legion and Auxiliary. The students welcomed Genesee County American Legion Commander Dave Henry, Chaplain Don Nagle, Post & County Adjutant Jim Neider, and Auxiliary President Jane Fox, and listened intently to their presentation.

Neider, who was recently named to the New York State Veterans' Hall of Fame in honor of gallantry in the Armed Forces and service to the community, made history come alive with stories of Betsy Ross and the first flag. He explained that Flag Day – June 14 – celebrates the birthday of our national symbol. He described the meaning of the flag’s stars and stripes, and the significance of the red, white, and blue. He also encouraged the young patriots to remind their parents and other adults of the many ways to honor the flag.

“As vets, we enjoy helping children connect with history, and get an understanding for the importance of our flag and our country,” says Neider, who also taught elementary school for 30 years at Alexander Central School. “The kids at Byron-Bergen are especially knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They make doing this a lot of fun.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 7:49 am

Photos: Notre Dame HS graduation

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, education, Notre Dame, schools

Notre Dame High School held its graduation service Saturday evening outside on the north side of the campus. Bishop Richard Malone spoke at the commencement ceremony.

To purchase prints, click here.

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