Schools: Youth Worker “Provoked” Fight

NHPSA Wilbur Cross employee dedicated to helping struggling youth lost his cool with one of the hardest-to-reach kids and ended up with a 15-day suspension without pay.

An independent investigator hired by the New Haven Public Schools concluded that Frank Redente, Jr., a youth development coordinator who has spent the past two decades working with the district’s most troubled children, acted unreasonably when he used force to take down a high-school freshman last spring.

Paula Anthony, an attorney at Berchem Moses hired by the district to conduct an independent investigation, said that Redente escalated the situation and used an unlawful restraint on the student. An additional investigation by the Department of Children and Families concluded there was insufficient evidence to substantiate any claims of abuse.

Lisa Mack, the district’s human resources director, wrote in a letter that the district had considered firing Redente. Officials instead entered a “last change agreement.” As part of that deal, Redente and his union representative agreed that they will not grieve the discipline in this case nor his termination if he is caught “in physical contact with a student” in violation of board policy or state law within the next three years.

Redente was suspended without pay for 15 days last month and reassigned to Fair Haven School. He will also take mandatory crisis-intervention training and anger management counseling.

Around 1:30 p.m. on May 4, 2018, a Friday afternoon just before dismissal, Redente tried to escort a high-school freshman who’d just been involved in a fight, to the assistant principal’s office. The student, who had a lengthy disciplinary history including three suspensions, cussed him out: “I didn’t do shit and I ain’t going nowhere with you.” But Redente eventually persuaded him to go along.

The student had been suspended three times for fighting and had been disciplined on many other occasions for ditching class and cussing at staff. He was known throughout the building as a difficult kid.

As they reached the first floor, they started fighting. Redente said that’s because the student punched him in the face. Redente said he reflexively tried to protect himself. Based on witness statements and video footage, Anthony concluded that Redente initiated the fight.

“The evidence supports a finding that [the student] was unnecessarily provoked into conduct that led to a restraint, and that the restraint by Redente was not conducted in accordance with BOE policies and/or state statute,” Anthony wrote in a report, which was submitted on July 20. “It is concluded, therefore, that Redente’s actions were not appropriate to the circumstances.”

Part of the altercation was captured on video by a security camera. Through a public-records request, the Independent obtained a redacted copy (above)  in which every student’s face is blurred. (The video was first published by WTNH.)

As soon as they walk in the frame, the footage shows Redente shoving the student in the back. The push is hard enough, Anthony points out, “to propel [the student] forward a few steps.”

Redente said that the clip tells only half the story because an additional security camera in the stairwell wasn’t working. If that footage were available, he claims that it would show the student hitting him first.

“I am a 24 year employee of NHPS, who was specifically requested to be assigned to Wilbur Cross High School because of my recognized ability to positively interact with at-risk youth who display challenging behaviors,” Redente said in a written statement. “There is a video of me pushing this youth and restraining him. I had explained during my interview, to no avail, that this push was done tactically to provide space between me and a young man with a history of aggressive behavior who had just struck me in the face at the bottom of the stairs.This was apparently not captured on video because the camera in the stairwell was not functioning.”

The student, in a written statement taken right after the incident, said he was trying to get away from Redente. As he walked down the stairs, he remembers saying, “Get the fuck away from me,” and Redente responding, “What did you say to me?” The student said Redente then ran down the stairs and and pushed him, before putting him into a restraint.

In a second interview with DCF, the student said that, as they were walking down the stairs, Redente put his hand on the boy’s back. He told DCF that he swung his arms up and told Redente not to touch him. He acknowledged that he might have struck Redente as he shrugged him off. The student told DCF that’s when Redente pushed him.

Redente said that he’d couldn’t square how he’d been cleared by the Department of Children and Families and disciplined by the Board of Education.

“The video and incident were thoroughly investigated by the Department of Children and Families, DCF concluded that my actions did not warrant substantiation of abuse or neglect. I have no explanation as to how or why the NHBOE could review the same set of facts and ascertain such a diametrically opposed opinion as to what transpired,” the statement went on. “At this time, both parties have reached a conclusion to this matter. The outcome was a settlement that allowed me to put an end to this nightmare and get on with my life and get back to work.

“I have committed my professional career to the at-risk youth of New Haven,” he continued. “The health and safety of my students has always been my number one priority. As proud as I am of that career, I am more proud of the many young men and women who I’ve been able to mentor and guide to productive lives. Now that this situation has been resolved, I am completely focused once again on their health and well-being.”

Redente is the son of a member of the school board. Superintendent Carol Birks said she went out of her way to avoid that influencing the investigation.

“We promptly reported the incident to the Department of Children and Families, which did not substantiate either abuse or neglect. However, after viewing the video and in the interest of school safety, I decided that further investigation was necessary,” Birks said in a statement. “Because Mr. Redente is the adult son of a Board member, I determined it was in the best interest of all concerned to retain the services of an outside law firm rather than utilize NHPS staff to conduct the investigation. Outside counsel conducted a thorough investigation into the matter, and based on the facts found and in consultation with counsel, I decided that serious discipline was in order. In consultation with his union, Mr. Redente accepted such serious discipline without grievance.

“In my judgment, this resolution appropriately balanced our need to impose serious discipline against the right of the employee to fair treatment,” Birks added. “At no time did the fact that Mr. Redente’s father is a Board member affect my decision to discipline Mr. Redente.”

The Bigger Challenge

 

The incident poses a bigger question for the district about how to handle students who repeatedly act out, especially given budget cuts in critical areas.

On the day of the incident, half of Wilbur Cross’s security staff wasn’t there.

Normally, the school is staffed with eight security guards and two school resource officers. Five of the guards reported to other schools that day as part of a push by Superintendent Carol Birks, after the Parkland shooting, to put security in every building.

Jason Bartlett, the city’s youth services director, helped create the Harp administration’s signature program for identifying and helping students in danger of facing expulsion and possible arrest. It’s called Youth Stat. The student in the fight with Redente was involved in Youth Stat.

Bartlett said Youth Stat offers all the help it can, but there are some students that they just can’t reach.

“Youth Stat is not a panacea. It cannot solve every situation,” he said. “The first young man we ever had in Youth Stat, we were not able to save him. He’s now incarcerated. We tried three years’ worth of interventions, everybody tried. But there’s still free will here, and not every situation can be resolved in the way we would like.

“The mind is still growing into the 20s, so in youth development, there is not necessarily the right dosage at any one time,” Bartlett added. “All we can do as a system here, as caring adults, is lend a hand, try the interventions when we can and try to be supportive.”

The student involved in the Redente altercation was also being considered for a spot at one of the district’s three alternative schools, a smaller environment that might have been more conducive to his learning needs. It’s unclear why he wasn’t transferred, whether because of a limited number of spots, a parent’s opposition, or an administrator’s hope that they might get through.

Because of the fight, the student was given a nine-day suspension. When he came back, he got into another physical altercation, and the school recommended that he be expelled. He’s now at Riverside Opportunity High School, the consolidated alternative school.

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posted by: heightster77 on October 4, 2018  8:36am

Only reason he wasn’t fired was because his father sits on the NHPS board of ed. So much for zero tolerance. As usual its who you know in this city.

posted by: Ewood_Parent on October 4, 2018  10:44am

Seriously heightster77? The ONLY reason he WAS disciplined is because he was a board members son and he needed to made an example of by this new administration. Convenient that they only show the video of him pushing the student and not the student smacking him in the mouth, which he admitted by the way. Why wont the BOE release the portions of the video that show the true context of this event and not just the part that makes Mr. Frank look bad. How can someone honestly judge what happened in this video without seeing the circumstances that led up to it? Not to mention that he was one of the only people in that building to directly work with that student who was by all accounts an “absolute menace”
His father as Chairman of the Finance Committee, challenged and tabled a number of huge maintenance contracts as one of his 1st actions on the Board, which I’m sure pissed off people at Gateway, one chief officer specifically I can think of but wont name. Lets also take into account that this student 10 days after this incident, returned to WC only to assault 2 more staff members and was led out of the building in cuffs. The video of that shows a dean dragging that child around by his arms before pinning him into a corner face first with his arms behind his back and his knee in the middle of his back all while the young man is screaming and female students are pleading with him to let the student go! Where’s that video that at one point was all over social media? Someone FOI that video, I personally know more than one person that has it!! That man was not disciplined in any way, maybe because his father was not on the Board so the political assassins had no incentive to go after him! Truth is that we are allowing the hijacking of our educational system by behavioral challenges and punishing those brave and caring enough to work with the most disruptive. Want to disrupt the school to prison pipeline? Teach kids that there are consequences for their actions now!!

posted by: Noteworthy on October 4, 2018  11:04am

Expel The Kids Notes:

1. In the name of keeping disruptive kids in school - this is what we get. Out of control kids that take extraordinary intervention. Forget it.

2. Why? Just so Mayor Harp et al can say they expel fewer kids than used to be kicked out for bad behavior?

3. You can only help those who want help. If you’re not interested in help - you come to school just to do your time, tell a teacher you need some rubber room time to calm down - and then go play video games on your phone - this is what we should be spending our tax dollars on? No.

posted by: Blackjack on October 4, 2018  2:02pm

It’s very disheartening to see that a student with a history of violence has been the vehicle to assassinate a good employees character. Also, to see that just prior to this the same student was involved with another BOE employee and that employee roughed him up and pinned him to a wall in full view of witnesses but received almost no punishment at all for his actions. Why is that? Connections? Skin color? Lack of an agenda? Why wasnt the stairwell camera working? Or, was it? Why weren’t all guards on duty? Especially at this school! From what I know, Mr Redente was the only person anyone ever called to deal with this student! I certainly appears that there was/is some sort of agenda to destroy this man’s career. It’s hard to believe in all his years he has never had a problem. And, has a huge following of people that vouch for him. I’m also appalled that Mr Clark makes statements that he looks after and does everything he can to see to the safety of students. That’s very hypocritical of him. Perhaps someone should look into his background? Didnt he work with the law firm that was hired to investigate Mr Redente? How did Dr Birks decide to use that law firm? Who suggested that to her? I believe that she her self is a victim of not being told any underlying motives to “go after” Mr. Redente. I think she or someone should start asking and investigating some real questions.

posted by: Tagan on October 4, 2018  2:27pm

Our district needs to fully support restorative practice training for everyone in schools, and provide meaningful anti-bias and anti-racism training. These types of behaviors and practices by adults towards youth will not change on their own, and a few hours of anger management training does not make a big impact, it is about culture change and learning new ways of being. A single person in charge of restorative justice for a whole district (which is what we currently have) and barely any resources to train people and implement these practices is not going to have the impact that we need.

posted by: newhavenishome on October 4, 2018  2:30pm

What are the qualifications to be hired as a Youth Development worker at NHPS? I don’t think the one at my son’s school has an education past high school. Constantly shouting in the halls, very abrasive. What type of training or certifications are required before they are hired?

posted by: robn on October 4, 2018  4:29pm

If the kid admitted hitting Redente in the mouth, I buy Redentes explaination that the shove was to put distance between them.

posted by: robn on October 4, 2018  4:31pm

PS
Good kids shouldn’t have their educations ruined because the school system is too soft hearted towards vicious students that terrorize others.

posted by: Blackjack on October 4, 2018  7:36pm

From what I was told by many students regarding the student involved in this incident and, from what I’ve seen on the video with Mr. Redente it’s very clear that noone else wanted anything to do with this student except for Mr. Redente. And, there is a video of this student being detained by another adult. Why isn’t that video being shown? I really believe that Redente was not only trying to help this student. In the past as well as that day. I also believe that he was defending himself against an aggressive student that was clearly going after him! I believe any adult or student would push another away to back them off and try not to escalate the situation. There seems to be something very wrong about the way this is being presented. None of our children should even be in a school with a student like this! Thank God for a person like Redente that will try to diffuse a situation like this. At least as a parent you can have some comfort knowing a man like him is around. I know so many kids that just feel so much more comfortable going to school knowing he is there.  Perhaps Dr. Birks should look into the files of some teachers and other employees. Because, she could be handing out alot of last chance agreements and termination letters! Dr. Birks does not have an easy job. But, I strongly feel she is being guided by the wrong people.

posted by: narcan on October 4, 2018  8:23pm

Only in liberal New Haven. We appreciate your effort Mr. Redente, but it’s obviously more sensible under the current city administration to lock yourself in your office and let the kids go wild.

posted by: WildwildWestEducator on October 4, 2018  8:51pm

Unfortunately this is just another school. We have students like this and some times more violent in other schools. Starting at elementary school. They assault staff repeatedly and nothing is done. They need to increase the social development department again and hire more social workers and less central office supervisors and the like. They tried this last year on the security guard at Cross, almost cost the man his job too. We should protect the staff and students from kids like this not the other way around. The schools shouldn’t have to fix everything that is wrong with society.  Schools educate, serve 3 meals a day, offer day care, clothes, school supplies,etc. when are parents going to step up.

posted by: Teachergal on October 5, 2018  5:56am

Ok, first, when the child swore at Redente he should have not engaged. This only added more fuel to the fire. Secondly, this is a big problem in the new haven schools. I have worked with many students who are depressed, angry, and violent while teaching in new haven and for good reason. Many teachers are too busy to find out the reasons for these feelings and social workers are overloaded. Why can’t we provide programs like I had back in the dinosaur days that were based on the needs of the child, mechanics, trade preparation, etc. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to college. Get these kids into hands on programs in school where they can learn a trade and use their hands for something useful. From what I hear from my non-retired teacher friends there is an increased amount of frustration and pressure being put on teachers/students from kindergarten through high school. And since when has it been developmentally appropriate to expect kindergarten students to be learning how to read? Do you research NH!!!

posted by: JojoBee1106 on October 5, 2018  11:25am

My son goes to Cross and knows Mr. Redente(Frank) personally. He’s also familiar with the student in the situation. He said “Frank” is a good guy who really does try to help kids and the student is a violent, disruptive kid, who fights constantly, is disrespectful to staff(never mind students), has a criminal record and is just a poster child problem kid. There are MANY students at Cross that don’t belong in mainstream, tbh they probably belong in juvi or vocational schools. Kids with behavioral issues as well as mental that the school system lumps up with “normal” kids and the environment becomes disruptive and sometimes even dangerous. Don’t let these ‘kids” ages fool you, some are downright violent and dangerous.

posted by: thecove on October 5, 2018  1:22pm

Gonna have to agree with narcan on this one.  Frank has dedicated his entire adult life to helping New Haven’s at risk youth.  Seems like this kid doesn’t belong in a conventional school.

posted by: elmcitybornandraised on October 6, 2018  8:40am

Wow, Mr. Redente is a pretty solid man and has helped many smh. Stay positive Mr. Redente!!!!! On the flip side I hope the kid is able to turn things around. It takes being mentored yes, BUT you have to want to put in the work to change your situation. Easier said than done, but I have done it and all my inner circle of friends have done it. We are all from the Elm.

posted by: LennyMoore24 on October 11, 2018  7:52pm

A student threw a chair at the back and neck of one of our teachers a few weeks ago. The teacher is still hurting tremendously.  The student then made the claim that the teacher had accosted him first. The teacher is not only out due to physical issues but also due to an investigation. This student, who was suppose to be enrolled at the alternative school, is still with us , not expelled, and is about to be placed in another teacher’s classroom.  This is how New Haven takes care of its’ educators?  This is taking place at the other comprehensive high school in New Haven. Maybe the Independent should do a piece on violence against teachers. Think about it.

posted by: JojoBee1106 on October 12, 2018  8:21am

LennyMoore24 , it’s not just about the educators, it’s also about the other students that go to school to learn, they deserve to do it in a safe environment. Some of these kids have NO business going to mainstream schools, especially having a history of violent behavior.
For a parent it’s easier I assume. A parent raises a fuss and exposes the school, they move into action, but a teacher would be fired for the same.
In my experience a school is only as good as its principal, if the principal is a Joe Clark type, a lot of things don’t happen. If they do, the principal takes APPROPRIATE action.
Cross isn’t a bad school, Mrs. Johnson is no nonsense and Mr. P really does work hard for those kids to succeed, plus the programs/classes/groups/teams they offer is way more than it was when I was in HS. But just as with most inner city schools, it comes with it’s own set of issues.