New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson Greeting Students as they return to campus during middle of school day

Enough is Enough: Time to Enforce School Board’s Closed Campus Policy at New Rochelle High School – Part I

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — As I was walking my dog around the lakes in Huguenot Park last Wednesday at about ten-thirty in the morning, I was verbally accosted and then menaced by “Angel”, a New Rochelle High School student. I reported the incident to officials at the school. When they declined to take action, I called the police to make a report. By the time police arrived, the group of students which included Angel had left. The school did not send a security guard to the scene. The police called school security and Angel was detained but I have no further information as to what happened because “it is confidential” because Angel is a student and 15 years old.

For the past several years, under the watch of New Rochelle High School Reggie Richardson, what had been an annoyance has become an epidemic. Each day, many hundreds of students leave the high school campus in the middle of the school day to wander the streets and parks and neighborhoods surrounding the school. Depending on the weather, as many as one-third of the students leave campus. Most walk towards the corner of Eastchester and North Avenue to get lunch at McDonalds, Chicken Joe’s, North Avenue Deli, Sung Hing Chinese Takeout or other restaraunts along North Avenue.

On the New Rochelle Mom’s Facebook group, women complain of being harassed or menaced or just feeling nervous about high school students loitering in Jack’s Friendship Garden, at or near the Huguenot Children’s Library, in the Nature Study Woods, or along walls and benches in and around Huguenot Park.

Most of the students leave campus to get lunch and then return, often eating on the way back and tossing garbage along the way (or into the lake).

Some are up to no good. These students are engaged in prohibited behavior beyond just leaving the school campus — most students in this group are leaving school to use drugs, mostly marijuana. Favorite spots includes a pathway intersection in the Nature Study Woods, the bushes next to the bridge along the path from between the lakes to North Avenue or benches along the lake. I walk my dog around the high school regularly and see this conduct daily.

From what I can see, security guards have completely given up trying to enforce the rules. I have personally observed security guards attempt to redirect students back to campus only to be laughed it, cursed out or ignored. They just throw up their hands and walk away. Yesterday, as it so often the case, a group of students went into the bushes by the bridge in the center of Huguenot Park and began consuming marijuana (the aroma was unmistakeable). I called the main office and soon thereafter a security guard in a golf cart drove to the bushes. He remained for about 20 seconds then drove off; the group of students remained in the bushes. I do not blame the security guards, from what they tell me they are not “backed up” by the building leadership when they do take action so they have stopped taking action — and the students know it.

New Rochelle police officers have long been frustrated by the lack of support from the high school, saying there is little they can do about students in the parks or on the streets during the school day. They are not truant officers and simply being in a public park or walking down the street is not a crime. Many of the students are of any age where they cannot be arrested (and the students know this). Police officers are deeply concerned that the soon-to-be-law “raise the age” legislation will dramatically compound the problem.

In the case of Angel, he identified himself as the young man who was reported by me for impersonating a police officer last June. At the time, police officers told me they were well familiar with the student, that he had been suspended from school, that he was living in Yonkers and the school knew that but was allowing him to finish out the year at New Rochelle High School.

The student justified his outburst towards me by claiming I had him arrested last spring. He was not arrested. What happened is that after I called the police to ask if they had an officer crossing students at Eastchester Road and White Oak Street, they sent an officer to investigate and determined the “officer” was a student in a home-made NRPD uniform. When they instructed him to remove the police shirt, he was found to be wearing a t-shirt from the MTA Police Department Explorers, a youth-group for students interested in becoming police officers. The MTA Police were called to the scene. They, in turn, called the young man’s father who took him from the scene. The student was not arrested.

For the past several years, I have listened to stories from local homeowners, park-goers, and business owners about making complaints to school officials about students causing problems off-campus during the middle of the school day. In my case, an alcove under the apartment building at 30 Eastchester, directly behind my house, was a favorite place for students to gather and smoke marijuana and mark graffiti — until I began videotaping the students and calling the police. These students often made threatening statements to me as the police arrived.

Quite frankly, I am sick and tired of having to deal with unruly high school students who have no business in public parks, on the streets or sidewalks or “taking over” restaurants like McDonalds during the middle of the school day. These students have absolutely no business off school grounds during the school day as school policy states: “New Rochelle High School students are required to adhere to the regulation of remaining on school grounds from their arrival at school until they are dismissed after their last class of instruction each school day.  Students who violate this policy will be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the Superintendent’s Regulations and Administrative procedures.”

The New Rochelle Board of Education has a long-standing policy:

Board Policy 5520 (Adopted July 1, 1989)

The Board of Education acknowledges that most of its secondary school students are responsible young persons who, not only value the educational opportunities provided them, but who respect the rights and property of others, and generally observe all the rules and regulations pertaining to students.

However, it is the responsibility of the Board of Education to provide for the care and physical well‑being of the students of the school district from the time they arrive at school for their first period class until they are dismissed at the end of the school day.  Therefore, it is imperative that the school district be able to provide constant and appropriate supervision of all its students during the entire school day.

Because of the school district’s inability to control events that occur off‑campus, New Rochelle High School students are required to adhere to the regulation of remaining on school grounds from their arrival at school until they are dismissed after their last class of instruction each school day.  Students who violate this policy will be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the Superintendent’s Regulations and Administrative procedures.

The New Rochelle Board of Education has an equally clear Code of Conduct (Revised July 2016 )

It is clear from what I have observed directly that Principal Reggie Richardson has abandon all responsibility for enforcing the Code of Conduct which is supposed to  reflect “the District’s strategic direction of providing a safe and supportive school and the District’s commitment to using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, PBIS, as the framework to support positive student behavior.”

For those not familiar with PBIS, a topic for another day, this is all part of the idea that students should not be held to account for their actions in school. The result has been a complete breakdown of order in schools that have implemented PBIS, with Isaac E. Young Middle School and New Rochelle High School being the two most notable local examples.

The Code of Conduct states as its purpose “to maintain safety and public order and to prevent abuse of the rights of others and to ensure that discipline, when necessary, is administered promptly and fairly in accordance with Sections 2801 and 3214 of the Education Law and Part 100 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.”

Does it? 

To answer that question just stand between White Oak Street and North Avenue along Eastchester Road between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The answer is obviously and emphatically “no”.

The problem is that no one — not teachers, security guards, property owners, business owners, elected officials, board members or the average resident — wants to say anything because they are afraid of being accused of being a “racist” because most of the students leaving campus are Black or Hispanic (that about 70% of the students at New Rochelle High School are students-of-color seems beside the point to them). As a result, the problem gets worse and worse each year to the point that residents now must avoid certain areas around the high school during the school day.

I for one, want my neighborhood and parks back!

Principal Richardson did not respond to a request for comment but sources tell Talk of the Sound that he has said on many occasions that he does not believe he has the right to constrain students who wish to leave the high school campus during the school day.

New York State law, Board Policy and the Code of Conduct all say otherwise.

The Code of Conduct states that it applies to “all students, school personnel, parents, and visitors when on school property and at school functions, or in transit to or from school property or a school function”.

The Code of Conduct describes intervention and consequences for violations occurring on three levels. Tier One where “School wide behavioral expectations are explicitly taught, reinforced, and acknowledged by school staff” through “expectations, signage, school-wide recognition, social-emotional skills teaching”. Obviously, this is not happening.

Tier Two is for students who get in trouble (since few ever do this is rarely if ever applied) but states that “targeted students receive additional instruction or support so that they are able to meet the behavioral expectations. (short term interventions are provided—socialization groups, check-in and check-out programs)” and “social-skills groups, daily check-in with adult, classroom behavior interventions”.  Again, not happening.

Tier Three is the ultimate level where “intensive interventions are provided to students who are not able to achieve the  expected behaviors with Tier One and Two interventions” which calls for “”individualized interventions for high-risk behaviors”. With Tier One and Tier Two not happening, guess how much is happening at Tier Three? Not much.

Overall, these policies are to be “guided by a discipline policy which is fairly and consistently implemented”. This does happen — because the policy is not enforced at all. The “good news” is that by not enforcing the rules and allowing students do whatever they want, the high school has been “successful” in “reducing” the amount of suspensions for which they are pleased to pat themselves on the back.

Under the Code of the Conduct, students have the responsibility to contribute to maintaining a safe and orderly school environment that is conducive to learning, report problems to the appropriate school staff, show respect to other persons and to property, be familiar with and follow the rules of this Code of Conduct as well as other school rules and District policies, attend school every day unless, they are legally excused, and be in class, on time and prepared to learn, react to direction given by teachers, administrators and other personnel in a respectful, positive and cooperative manner, work to develop appropriate ways to manage anger, accept responsibility for their actions. While most do, quite a large number do not and those students have all learned how to game the system — they can ignore direction from adults and there will be no consequences.

Under the Code of Conduct there is a list of Prohibited Conduct which is on display in the area around the high school campus every day: engaging in dangerous horseplay, using language or gestures that are profane, lewd, vulgar, abusive or threatening, obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic, failing to comply with legitimate and reasonable directives of teachers, school administrators, and other school personnel, lateness to school; cutting class, homeroom or detention; and leaving school without permission, committing, or attempting to commit, an act of violence (such as hitting, kicking, punching, or scratching) upon any person, smoking a cigarette, cigar, pipe, electronic cigarette, or using chewing or smokeless tobacco, or possessing any of the foregoing on school grounds, possessing, consuming, selling or offering for sale, offering, distributing, or exchanging alcoholic beverages or illegal substances, or being under the influence of either. “Illegal substances” include, but are not limited to, inhalants, marijuana, cocaine, LSD, PCP, amphetamines, heroin, steroids, look- alike drugs, and any synthetic version thereof, whether specifically illegal or not, commonly referred to as “designer drugs” which are substances designed and synthesized to mimic the intended effects and usages of, which are chemically substantially similar to, illegal drugs, which may or may not be labeled for human consumption. 

The Code of Conduct requires that all school personnel who witness or become aware of such a violation shall “promptly make a verbal report of violations of the Code of Conduct to their building principal” and that “all District administrators who witness or become aware of violations of this Code of Conduct…are expected to investigate the situation and impose appropriate sanctions as necessary in a timely, fair, consistent, impartial and lawful manner.”

This is not happening either.

The Code of Conduct requires that for “violations which may constitute a crime, the building principal or designee will consult with the appropriate local law enforcement agency regarding violations that constitute a crime.”

Here is the list of Code of Conduct violations on display during the school day in the parks, streets, neighborhoods and businesses where there are no interventions or consequences being taught or reinforced

  • Absences – Unexcused 
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, or other Substances – Possession
Alcohol, Tobacco, or other Substances – Use/Being under the influence 
  • Bullying/Harassment
  • Coercing another to violate the code
Fighting-physical contact with no physical injury 
  • Fighting-verbal
  • Use of inappropriate language
Abusive language directed at others 
  • Inappropriate physical contact 
  • Insubordination or defiance 
  • Intimidation with no verbal threat or physical contact 
  • Matches/lighters (possession of) 
  • Out of place (leaving class or school without permission) 
  • Tardy/late to school or class 
  • Unsafe behavior 
  • Engaging in dangerous horseplay
  • Obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic

And what about the SAVE Law procedures which have been required for decades (since Columbine) and received a new emphasis following Sandy Hook?

If 400, 500, 600 students are off-campus during the middle of the school day what happens if there is an armed person known to be moving towards or actually in the school. The procedure is for the school to implement a lockdown/lockout procedure. How would that work with hundreds of students in the parks or on the streets, some far from the school? How does the school manage the campus with gates left wide open to accommodate students leaving and returning throughout the school day?

This is not a theoretical question.

Last year, on February 2, 2016, there was an armed robbery in downtown New Rochelle. The suspects fled North in a vehicle where they crashed on Clove Road near Eastchester Road, a little over a block from the high school.

When the vehicle entered Clove Road at Mayflower near Holy Family Church, police pursued the vehicle onto Clove Road while another police car drove in the opposite direction on Clove Road from Eastchester Road and crashed into the suspect’s vehicle, disabling it. The four suspects existed the vehicle and fled on foot down Clove Road towards Eastchester Road and then crossing Eastchester Road heading towards the high school,

New Rochelle Police Captain Robert Gazzola said police officers captured the 4 suspects in the area near the teacher’s parking lot on Clove Road. One weapon, possibly a handgun, was recovered on the scene.

One police officer sustained minor injuries in the vehicle collision on Clove Road, another while in foot pursuit.

At the direction of New Rochelle police, the high school was put on lockdown and students kept in the building until 3:30 p.m.

Fortunately, the incident happened on a cold day, later in the school day. Had it occurred on a warmer day, an hour or two earlier there would have been four armed robbers feeling police all of an age where it would be difficult to differentiate student from suspect into a crowd of hundreds of students.

How would that work out?

Here is some further information on the gentleman who wound up, armed and dangerous, on school grounds:

Arrested and charged with Robbery in the First Degree, a Class B Felony, are Stephan Hamilton, 18, 3311 Colden Avenue, Bronx NY; William Reid, 22, 805 East 235th Street, Bronx NY; Quaysean Cannonier, 21, 1735 Madison Avenue, NY, NY; Tayquan Tucker, 20, claims he’s homeless. Robbery in the First Degree or “Armed Robbery” is a Class B Felony, a violent crime punishable by no less than five years and a maximum of twenty five years in state prison.

Reggie Richardson did not respond to an email requesting comment.

More to follow.