Memo To:   All Buffalo Teachers

From:         Rich Nigro, President, BTF

Date:          May 16, 2024


Subject:     Union Position on Breaking Up Fights

After hearing BOE President Belton-Cottman’s comments at last night’s Board meeting regarding the Federation’s position on physical intervention during altercations between students, I am compelled to reiterate our position. I, Buffalo Teachers Federation President Rich Nigro, advise members NOT to physically intervene during altercations between students.


Teachers DO have an obligation to protect the safety of the students in their building. That is part of your job as an educator. It’s why you pull students aside to talk with them when you see a change in their behavior. It’s why you change the seating arrangement in your class when you notice unresolved personality conflicts. It’s why you conduct restorative circles. And it’s why you reach out to Student Support Staff and parents to ensure a safe and healthful environment for your students.


Teachers MUST intervene in some way when physical altercations occur. Interventions take many forms. Teachers have shouted verbal commands for students who are fighting to stop. Teachers have put themselves in harm’s way managing crowd control to prevent other students (who may be attempting to get a better view, cheer on the fight, or record a video to upload to such sites as Buffalo_Fights on Instagram). It may be appropriate to call the Main Office, School Security, or a neighboring teacher for help. There are many ways to intervene outside of physical intervention.


Teachers ARE mandated reporters and so must report such instances to building administration. You have a responsibility to inform the building principal (or his/her designee in his/her absence) of ANY physical altercation or assault. You should also record such occurrences as an Office Discipline Referral (ODR) in Infinite Campus (IC). Such data recorded in IC are reported to the State’s Information and Reporting Services and reflected on the School Safety and the Educational Climate (SECC). These data, if accurately reported, can be used to target supports where they are most needed. But only if such instances are accurately reported.


Teachers are NOT mandated to physically intervene when fights erupt between students. There are court decisions that support the reasons for such advice. If a teacher, while attempting to break up a fight, is injured, left incapacitated, or knocked unconscious, that leaves his/her other students vulnerable to imminent danger. A teacher may be hurt while attempting to separate fighting students resulting in long-term or permanent injuries. A teacher may suffer injuries requiring a paid leave of absence from work as the Workers’ Compensation process takes place. A student or parent may claim they were injured by the actions of a teacher who physically broke up a fight they were involved in. Thus, for the safety of our members whose interests we must protect, the Federation advises our members NOT to physically intervene when two or more students are fighting.


I have personally broken up fights as have many of you reading this letter. At times, I have been injured doing so, though I have been fortunate those injuries did not result in loss of work time. Ultimately, the decision is the teacher’s as to how he/she intercedes based upon the unique situation at hand. Know that your union is here to support you. The union’s primary job is to uphold the rights guaranteed to you in the contract and Taylor Law. BOE President Belton-Cottman has said, “Much has been given, and much will be expected in return.” I believe a more accurate statement is, "Much has been given, because you have earned it!"


In solidarity,


Rich Nigro,
BTF President