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Board members lambasted for inaction on suspension policy; tensions run high

For the past several weeks, a small crowd has been attending School Board meetings, pushing for an end to out-of-school suspensions for nonviolent offenses. Many of the same people take their turn at the podium, meeting after meeting.

But, while many of the faces were the same last night, the atmosphere in the room took a decidedly heated turn. Today's story gives you a sense of some of what happened. People are clearly not happy that it's been 19 months since Lafayette High School student Jawaan Daniels was shot at a bus stop after being suspended and sent home in the middle of the day.

Here's some of the rest of what happened last night.

Speakers seem to be taking aim more squarely at board members. One, John Washington, went so far as to call them "murderers."

"I am appalled that this is called a board of education. To me it seems you are bored of education," he said. "Instead of educating children, you are putting them on the streets -- streets you would be afraid to walk in. You are denying children their education, and for that you are murderers.

"I propose that when someone is suspended from school, you have to walk their route home from school."

A few speakers assigned racial motivations to the board's delay in changing the suspension policy.

“If politics is the art of delaying action until it's no longer relevant, you all are excellent politicians,” said Brian Trzeciak, of Citizen Action, the group that has been championing the suspension issue. “If Jawaan was white, this issue would have been resolved 19 months ago.”

The growing discontent with board members is starting to bubble up to the surface, with more open talk of targeting board members during next year's elections.

Jesse Lenney of the Working Families Party let board members know that his party would be backing board members in the next election in 2013, and that one of the yardsticks would be action on the suspension issue.

“We’ll be voting and running for office,” he said.

While he was up at the podium, Jim Anderson chastised board members for not taking action months ago, not sponsoring their own public forums about suspensions, not communicating with the public, and not listening attentively when the public speaks to the board.

“You know what's wrong here? You don't even speak. You put it on the superintendent's back. And now you want us to believe you'll speak on behalf of the community? We're not feeling it,” he said. “We see the reactions here. Coldheartedness. Stiffness. Some of you turn your back.”

Board President Lou Petrucci several times during the meeting asked the audience to withhold their applause, chants and hoots.

“I want to hear everyone speak tonight. Chanting isn't going to help it. You want us to listen? I will gladly listen. Then give the respect of letting other people speak,” he said at one point.

At that point, many audience members in the standing room-only crowd started chanting, “Books, not prison” – a reference to the thinking that suspensions pave the way to prison for students – prompting chief of staff James Kane to stand up and tell the crowd, “No chanting. No chanting.” Dixon, in turn, directed Kane: “Jim, sit down.”

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |