Flint, MI— Following several altercations at Southwestern Classical Academy on Nov. 12, which required police officers and the use of mace on multiple students, Principal Christopher Ochodnicky called a safety meeting to update parents on school’s course of action.
Ochodnicky held the forum Nov. 29 in Southwestern’s auditorium. Three parents attended.
“We strive to build a positive professional and calm culture every single day. And being part of the Flint Community Schools, the safety of our scholars is always our primary concern. We are committed to providing a learning environment where students feel safe, but it’s going to take the support of an entire community,” Ochodnicky said.
The high school is seeking parent volunteers who can provide daily “check-ins” with students, Ochodnicky said. The goal is for every student to have access to a trusted adult.
“There will be a group of students that will come to you at breakfast time and again at lunch. So, that way there’s always a trusted adult that they can check in with if they’re having a problem. And that way we can help to all part of the solution.” Ochodnicky said to parents.
Volunteers will undergo a background screening and some training by the school’s administrative team.
“We are also taking a restorative practices approach to supporting our scholars. We’ve already begun a program that we call ‘Level Up’ where boys and girls that have been identified as being persistent risks of acting out in a physical manner can work with individuals that have experience with social and emotional learning and development,” Ochodnicky said.
After those at-risk students are identified, Ochodnicky said the focus shifts to their friends.
“There are friends that hang out with those kids. And because they’re on the periphery, we’re making sure that we’re roping them in as well, particularly with our girls’ group,” he said.
The message is teaching students how to solve their problems in a constructive manner.
“Our focus really is going to be on the preventative measures, we want to stop those issues before they even happen. That’s really the goal,” Ochodnicky said.
Betty Nostrant, a parent whose 15-year-old son Charles Nostrant was maced by mistake during the altercations, asked Ochodnicky what was being done to protect the children from being “treated like adults” when fights do occur.
“We’re working regularly with our security staff, I meet with them every morning to make sure they understand where their positions are, to make sure that they understand the procedures and the steps. So that we can break up those altercations as quickly as they occur,” Ochodnicky said, adding that he could not comment on police procedures and any questions concerning their use of mace should be directed to them.
Nostrant, who also serves as Flint Community Schools representative to the Genesee Intermediate School District Parent Advisory Committee, suggested allowing the police time to get to know the students.
“Maybe having something where the police come in and get to know the students…. So, they understand more than this is not just a riot these are children,” Nostrant said.
Despite recent events, Ochodnicky said referrals have decreased by 40% since the 2019-20 school year. Referrals involving physical altercations have also dropped by 21%, he said.
“I’m asking you to please don’t give up on us. We are going to win this battle. And we are going to turn this ship around and turn this school into a fantastic community center and learning center for your students. I’m dedicated to making this school to be all that it can be. And we have made tremendous strides,” Ochodnicky said.