BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Watch the video closely as a Bennett High School teacher tries to break up a fight between female students.
It happened April 28 inside the school as teacher Kevin Coady was leaving for the day. Coady is the one in the baseball cap.
In an interview exclusive to News 4 Investigates, he says as he attempted to get between the students, punches landed to his head, back and shoulder.
“I remember one hitting me in the cheek and another one hitting me in the shoulder. But I don’t really recall how many because it’s chaos at times like that,” Coady said.
Last month, News 4 Investigates told you about Bennett teachers who had come forward asking for help because they felt unsafe. They had even appealed to the school board saying conditions had become chaotic with students fighting and roaming the halls. Coady, a district teacher for 30 years who’s been at Bennett for nine years, was among the teachers who talked to News 4 about his concerns.
Now this vivid video describes just what they were talking about. “When I got in between them I figured that would be it but she never let go of her hair, you know, and started swinging and the blows were hitting me,” he said.
Coady, a special education teacher, says he was certain that the students knew he was a teacher, although neither of the girls are his students.
He said he knows his union advises teachers not to break up fights but, “It’s natural for me to do it and I always do it. I don’t want to see someone get hurt.”
News 4 Investigates showed the video to Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore. He watched the video over and over, and could not believe what he was seeing. “We usually advise our teachers don’t get involved in it, call the security guard. But unfortunately or fortunately teachers aren’t built that way. They have to try and break up the fights so that one of the students doesn’t get hurt,” Rumore said after viewing the video.
Coady is out on sick leave because of a previously scheduled medical procedure says the very thought of having to walk back inside Bennett High makes him tremble. “Every time I think about going back I start, really I start to shake. Right now I’m thinking to myself I don’t know if I can ever walk back in there again and I know I have to,” he said.
Coady said he was repeatedly shoved by a student in October and this year is the first time in his career that he feels as if “there was no support and I was not safe.” He adds, “For the whole year, that’s been the common theme around the school, let’s ignore stuff.”
During an interview with News 4 earlier this year, Coady talked about his passion for teaching and mentoring, and his concern that Bennett had become unsafe. “My issue is I see these kids and I care about them. I care about them passionately. And I feel myself going up because some of these kids, they have nothing,” he said.
Coady says he decided to come forward to set the record straight about conditions inside Bennett, especially after he heard the principal told faculty Tuesday that the situation has improved. The principal, Dr. Terry Ross, reportedly made no mention that Coady had been beaten by students just last week.
Coady said he’s troubled that the district continues to emphasize that student suspensions are down “but nobody ever talks about what conditions in the schools. We just stopped suspending people so of course suspensions are down but we have people who have been hurt this year.”
Coady says he filed an incident report with school security and his union.
The safety of Bennett teachers has been an issue this school year with teachers in a recent anonymous survey by the BTF.
The survey, conducted in December, was completed by half of the 95 teachers at Bennett. When asked to agree or disagree with this statement: Bennett is a safe place for students, 48 respondents disagreed. One wrote: “Students are roaming the hallways. I have both witnessed and heard stories of students walking into classrooms and starting fights. Students are being jumped in the bathrooms. Before and after school students are fighting.”
Rumore sent a letter in February to Superintendent Pamela Brown and Chief of Police Kevin Brinkworth in which he complained about a lack of security officers at Bennett.
“This is obviously a dangerous situation,” he states in the letter. “We need more, not less security.”
Now, three months later, a teacher says he was injured breaking up a fight. Coady says no security officer showed up during the incident. The only help he received was from another teacher, who stayed with him since he was hyperventilating.
“This is horrendous,” said Rumore. “But it happened because there’s a lack of discipline in the school to begin with.”
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown was asked about what action was taken. She stated, “I cannot comment on the specific actions that have been taken. But certainly we are ensuring that the appropriate process has been followed.”
A school source says the two girls have been suspended and will soon face a disciplinary hearing.
Rumore, who had already been highly critical of the way Ross has been handling teachers’ concerns at Bennett, says with this latest fight, the buck stops at the principal’s desk. “I just don’t believe that this person has the qualifications or the temperament or the ability to be a principal in high school. I just don’t think he has it,” Rumore said.
But Superintendent Brown sees things another way, and remains supportive of Ross. “I think he continues to work very hard to bring that school community together and to establish the kind of culture and practices there that will generate better outcomes for students. And we continue to support him in that effort,” she said.