Friday, January 30, 2015

Finger-pointing won't solve youth fights

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2015 at 5:08 PM

Here we go again. A video surfaced earlier this week showing young people fighting downtown near the newly opened transit center. This latest incident follows a stabbing of a young male at the center in December, and now the finger-pointing has begun.

This seems like a typical case of passing the buck. More security is needed downtown during the hours that students are being let out of school, and the latest argument is over who is responsible for footing that bill. 
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

But solving the city’s problem with youth violence is not that simple.

A recap: Mayor Lovely Warren and Police Chief Michael Ciminelli blamed the problem of youth violence at the transit center on Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

A written statement from Warren says that city, transit officials, and Ciminelli have discussed ways to ensure bus passenger safety, and have asked Vargas to help.

“Unfortunately, up until now, Superintendent Vargas and his team have refused to implement or participate meaningfully in any discussions that could lead to safe passage for all,” the statement says.

Warren goes on to say that the city school district solely controls student transportation. And it’s the district’s transportation policy that’s causing the problem, Warren and Ciminelli say. 

But in a press conference earlier today, Vargas disputed the claim, saying that the district has been helping. And it can’t afford to spend money on downtown security or be held responsible for the behavior of youth when they are not in school, he said. 

The district already spends more than $50 million on transportation, he said, more than most districts around the country. About 70 percent of the 9,469 students who use RTS buses are Express Route passengers who don’t even catch a transfer bus downtown, Vargas said. That alone costs the district $5 million, he said.

Money that the district spends on transportation and security is money that can’t be used for adding reading, math, arts, and music teachers, Vargas said.

“Remember I came to a district with no reading teachers,” he said.

Vargas said that he was surprised by the mayor’s comments, calling them unproductive. And he said that many of the city’s children see violence at home and in their neighborhoods.

Neither the district nor the city can solve the youth violence problem in Rochester on their own. Adding more security downtown at the transit center, as we already know, won’t stop kids from getting into fights at the mall or in a local movie theater. This is a community-wide problem and it needs a community response.

There’s a role for everyone from human service agencies such as Baden Street and the Center for Youth, the faith community, but most importantly, for parents and the youth themselves. While no one wants to resort to punitive treatment of young people, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed in one of these brawls.

And we’ll all be to blame.

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