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Bad joke ends with singed hair

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After the April 12 incident, the officer, Albert Blacks, was heard to say "it was an accident," the law enforcement official said.Sidonia Frank, an 11th-grader from Rosedale who was sitting outside the school Friday, said "Blacks was very playful." Although she did not witness the incident that left 16-year-old Michael Price of Laurelton with a singed patch of hair, she thought the safety officer only meant to place the flame near the student's head as a joke, not actually light his hair on fire. "They know he wouldn't harm this kid," she said of her peers. "They're looking at this as an accident."The apparent explanation did not satisfy Price's father, Thomas Price, the vice president of the school's parent-teacher association."I don't know why he would do anything like that," Price said of the officer. "My son was very angry and upset about it. It could have been a disaster."Blacks, 35, a seven-year veteran of the school safety force, was arraigned April 12 in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens on charges of reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child and held on $2,500 bail, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney said. He must return to court and could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted. Police said Blacks had been suspended without pay, but they did not know when he had been assigned to the school and whether or not he had a clean record before the recent allegations.Neither Blacks nor his lawyer, Matthew Thomas, could be reached for comment.Before they are assigned to their posts, school safety officers must go through a background check and attend a 14-week training course, during which they learn how to behave with students. The work is best suited for those with good people skills, said an officer who helps train new recruits."It's a challenging job where the pay's not that wonderful," the officer said by telephone. "People burn out very easily."Springfield Gardens High was added earlier this year to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's list of Impact Schools, places that were deemed in need of more safety officers. In the 2003-2004 academic year, the school recorded 12 major crimes and 28 other crimes. Schools similar in size reported an average of 2.2 major crimes and 9.6 other crimes. After a non-fatal stabbing in December, students said safety officers did not closely guard doors to the outside.It was also at Springfield Gardens High that school safety chief Gerald Nelson came under fire for allegedly telling a group of officers that some mothers were "real bitches" that interfered with security and needed to be "body slammed" down to the ground, handcuffed and arrested. The reputed comments were reported by the officers' union.Price said he and other parents had complained at recent PTA meetings that some, although not all, of the safety officers were rude to parents and acted unprofessionally toward students.Frank, the 11th-grader, said some of the school's safety officers were verbally playful with the students but never made physical contact. One of the school's officers said this was the first time he had heard of such an incident and noted that it was important to set limits on interacting with students."As long as you stay professional, you don't have that problem," he said. "You have to distinguish that barrier between adult and child."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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