Aldermen discuss youth downtown

About two months after a protest by high school students on the New Haven Green, high school students and city and school officials are ready to start a discussion over students hanging out downtown.

At the Board of Aldermen Youth Services Committee meeting Wednesday, city officials said they try to prevent crowds of high school students from convening on the Green and at other downtown locations because they fear the gatherings would lead to fights and other public disturbances.

On the advice of audience member Danny Silk ’11, the meeting attendees agreed to continue discussions among students, police and school and city officials to decide ways to let kids stay downtown. Although Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, chairman of the youth services committee, said she hopes the discussion would resolve community concerns, the meeting attendees did not set a timeline to do so.

The meeting follows a protest on the Green in September by 30 high school and Yale students who rallied to oppose a rule at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School that requires students to take the bus home instead of staying downtown after school without a parent’s note.

“There are some perceptions on the part of young people that they are not welcome downtown and are told to go away,” Clark said. “But there are other perceptions on the part of young people that that is not the case unless you are up to no good.”

New Haven Police Officer Jeffrey Fletcher said at the meeting that he arrested only a handful of New Haven students last year for fighting or causing a disruption.

“The real issues are that we have people coming to the Green from other towns and hanging out,” Fletcher said. “There are people out there selling prescription medications.”

But Fletcher said large numbers of students congregating downtown have presented problems in the past, causing police officers to direct students out of the area.

Fletcher said high school crowds were particularly prevalent during the first few days of school this year. He said the numbers have trickled off since then, but that officers still ask large groups to move.

Fletcher added that he thinks businesses are concerned that the presence of crowds could increase the likelihood of shoplifting.

But Dolores Garcia-Blocker, principal of the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, said at the meeting that based on her experiences, businesses have shown support for students. She said her high school will soon give rewards to students who earned any type of honors on their report cards, and that New Haven businesses donated hundreds of dollars worth of gift certificates and other prizes.

Still, Garcia-Blocker said students heading downtown instead of taking the bus home after school raises liability issues for school administrators.

“The expectation is that we as the Board of Education are responsible for driving kids to school and for making sure the kids get on the bus home from school,” she said.

Melanie Marritt, a junior at New Haven Academy, said she personally has never experienced any problems on the Green — but that it all depends on how you conduct yourself.

“I just feel that when you go downtown you can tell that something is going to happen,” Marritt said. “I think that the way you carry yourself should determine whether you are allowed to be downtown or not.”

The next Board of Aldermen meeting is scheduled for December 7.

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