It was just another unordinary day in the hallways of Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy. Soon the yelps and screams of girls and boys broke up the peaceful parade between classes.
Some girls were heard cheering on the instigator while others took the side of the “victim.” Between the cacophony of the students, you could see the helpless teachers and physical education teacher trying to stop the violence. But it was too late as at least two other fights broke out minutes later, including one on the dangerous stairway between the high school and middle school classes.
That is what video shared at an April 3 RKA parent association meeting showed. In short snippets averaging about 15 seconds each, girls and two boys were shown getting into fist and slap fights while other students looked on and shot video on their cell phones.
“One of the kids looked like he was almost thrown down the stairs,” a parent of an RKA student told The Riverdale Press. “A girl had to go to the hospital to get stitches. One kid transferred to St. Margaret of Cortona School.
“Some kids are taking self-defense courses. It’s an unhealthy, not safe environment.”
That parent and his wife are so afraid for their children who attend the school that they would not give their name for attribution.
The fights, which have apparently been going on since last fall, was the subject of the parent association meeting when those parents and others added it to the agenda.
“We brought it up at a PTA meeting,” the parent said. “The principal was completely perplexed. These fights have been happening since September (2022). The feedback we got from the Board of Education is if you remain anonymous, there is nothing we can do. We can just send the information to the school.”
While minutes of that meeting have yet to be released on the parent association website, the agenda included the following:
• Parents saw videos of fights at the school.
• Principal Lori O’Mara is aware and has been addressing the issue.
• Please report any conflicts your child may have to the school.
• Discussion by the parents.
• Suggestion by parent to send any communication about conflict at school to home.
“We’re tried to several times to contact the superintendent, Maribel Hulla, and we got nowhere,” the parent said. “My wife actually managed to speak to someone and they said they were going to send this information to the school itself. I think the problem lies with the school itself and the principal not doing due diligence.”
O’Mara, who referred any requests for comment to the city education department, addressed the fighting and the city’s behavioral code of conduct in her September 2023 message to parents and students.
“We want to especially encourage all families to review the Code of Conduct sent home in the Opening Day packets,” O’Mara wrote. “We will continue to follow the NYCDOE Behavioral Code for all behavioral infractions, such as fighting or bullying. It is important to remember that all weapons such as knives, guns, pepper spray and even ‘toy’ guns such as gel blasters are prohibited and even illegal to have in schools.”
Additionally, the code includes a section on how disciplinary issues should be handled. It states, “RKA has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward any student misbehavior. We are proud that any student incidents are minor. All students are expected to follow the rules of the school, which are based on the Citywide Behavioral Expectations. All families must read and sign the Code of Conduct contract found in the Welcome Packet. Regulations include forbiddance of: fighting, inappropriate language, drugs, bullying/cyberbullying, vandalism, false alarms and smoking. The middle school deans handle all disciplinary issues.”
For the 2023-24 school year, RKA has changed its cell phone policy for students. Students may bring the phones to school, but they must be turned off during the day and are only permitted to be used during lunch. And as students arrive to class, they will find a small plastic pouch adhered to their desks. Students have to place their off device in the pouch during class.
If the students need to go to the restroom, they have to swap their phones with a hall pass. The teacher will keep the phone in a specified area.
As an incentive for good behavior, O’Mara wrote about a “Tiger Tokens” program where students can redeem such tokens for tangible rewards and events.
“We are prepared to offer you fun incentives, such as trips, dances, activities, and assemblies, as well as opportunities for academic success, and we expect positive behavior in return,” O’Mara wrote.
But she did remind students they are expected to use the hallways and staircases in a quick and courteous manner.
“Students should walk to their right in the hallway and move directly from one place to another without lingering, touching, running, horse play or blocking traffic,” she wrote. “For travel in between most classes, middle school students should use the stairs in the main corridor.”
At the school the security is very minimal, with only one guard at the main entrance. It has been reported by some parents that students cut classes and vape in the hallways, stairways and bathrooms.
A big issue for teachers and administrators is the reluctance of them to break up fights because they are not supposed to touch students. Unfortunately, there was at least one case where a teacher was attacked.
“One student threw a basketball at a physical education teacher right in his face,” a parent said. “There is no effort to really break up a fight because teachers can’t touch a child.”