BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — As the FBI, Buffalo Police, and SWAT teams descended on McKinley High School on February 9th, history teacher Joseph Marciniak was hiding in the school library.
"A gentleman that works with me, he comes in and he makes the motion of a gun and he tells us we've got to go into this room in the back of the library," said Marciniak.
Marciniak says officers were going room to room, guns pointed, searching for the shooter.
"For his finger to be on the trigger, and that assault rifle to be so close to my head left a mark on me."
But Marciniak says the most troubling thing about that day was that it was, as he calls it, inevitable. He says the school culture has grown increasingly dangerous to the point that it is "bordering on child abuse" ever since 2017, when Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash tapped Marck Abraham to become principal, replacing longtime principal Crystal Boling-Barton when she was put on administrative leave.
Multiple sources tell 7 News that under Abraham's leadership, violence increased, bad behavior was not disciplined, and teachers were punished. In January 2018, the Buffalo Teachers Federation filed an unprecedented vote of no-confidence against Abraham, but Dr. Cash stood by him.
"We've been telling [Dr. Cash] for some time that the pain of the staff the students was there. And it was real. He ignored us."
In February 2019, a student assaulted a McKinley teacher, causing the teacher to suffer a bloody, inches-long wound. The assaulted teacher, who spoke with 7 News on the condition of anonymity, said a security guard witnessed the whole encounter.
“[The student] wanted his cell phone back and I wouldn’t give it to him,” said the teacher.
That teacher was transferred to Leonardo daVinci High School.
“[The district] ended up siding with the student and decided that I should be the one who should be removed,” the teacher said.
In a statement to WBFO shortly after the assault, Nate Kuzma, legal counsel for Buffalo Public Schools said “To protect his own safety and his feeling that he is unsafe at the school – we have elected, in the best interest of all involved, to place this individual at a different high school.”
Days after the assault, a teacher survey published by the BTF found 95 percent of teachers did not feel there were clear and consistent procedures in place for student behavior. The survey also found 92 percent of respondents said administrative leadership, led by Abraham, was poor or non-existent.
But violence is not the only concern.
In September 2020, the BTF sent Dr. Cash a lengthy letter written by a McKinley teacher, outlining what he calls "grade fraud." The teacher noticed one of his low-performing seniors, who had been absent 31 days, was enrolled in two physical education classes at the same time. The teacher, who spoke with 7 News on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by the school district, believes Abraham's administration enrolled the student in two physical education classes so that the higher grade would be applied and the lower grade would be thrown out, giving the student a greater chance of graduating.
Two other teachers, who also would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said Abraham pressured them to improve students' grades so that they would graduate.
One teacher said Abraham would ask him if there is “anything I can do to pass this kid or put a packet [of assignments] together so this kid can pass.”
“We all know how the road to Hades is paved," said another teacher. "I believe [Abraham] had the best intentions, but it was the follow through that was enabling kids to take the path of least resistance, and boy, did some of them take that and run with it.”
7 News reached Abraham by phone in an effort to get his response to these allegations. Abraham said he had nothing to say except "my prayer is for McKinley High School and the child that is fighting for his life. That's my prayer, for him and his family."
7 News also reached out to the district for comment. In a statement, spokesperson Ka'Ron Barnes said "in light of the pending legal action, the District, per the advice of the counsel, will not comment at this time."