NYCLU Applauds City Council’s Unanimous Passage of Student Safety Act

December 20, 2010 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded the City Council for unanimously passing the Student Safety Act, legislation that will bring much-needed transparency to NYPD activity and Department of Education suspension practices in the city’s schools.

“This is a victory for all of New York City’s schoolchildren and the core democratic principle of open government,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “The Student Safety Act is one of the most comprehensive school safety reporting laws in the nation. It is an important step toward establishing safety and discipline policies that treat all children fairly, with respect and dignity, and toward the day when we provide a safe and supportive learning environment for all students.”

The City Council passed the legislation today in a 47-0 vote. It was supported by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Vallone, Jr.

The Student Safety Act provides a detailed framework for the reporting of discipline and police practices in schools on a routine basis. It will require the Department of Education (DOE) to submit an annual report on student discipline that shows the number of students subjected to a superintendent’s suspension (six days to one year) or a principal’s suspension (five days of less) during the school year. It also must include the number of suspension-related school transfers.

In addition to this annual report, the act will require bi-annual reports on the number of suspensions citywide for each month. This will allow educators, policymakers and parents to determine whether suspensions increase during certain periods – such as high stakes testing time – of the school year

The bill also will require the NYPD to provide the council a quarterly report detailing the activity of its personnel in city schools. The quarterly report will show the number of students arrested and issued summonses broken down by patrol borough, and it will detail non-criminal incidents involving NYPD personnel.

Information in the annual discipline report and the NYPD’s quarterly reports will be broken down by students’ race, gender, age, grade level, special education status and whether they are English language learners.

The NYCLU and other advocates will be analyzing this data regularly to determine the impact of school safety policies on education.

“We commend the City Council for passing this important legislation, and look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to create smart and effective school discipline and safety policies in New York City,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “We’ll continue to work with policymakers to revamp school discipline and safety policies to ensure that all children are provided with equal educational opportunities. We will work for even greater accountability and transparency regarding NYPD and DOE practices in the schools. We have no doubt that smart discipline policies will increase New York City’s graduation rate and help close the achievement gap.”

The NYCLU will continue to call on the City Council to strengthen the Civilian Complaint Review Board and to broaden its jurisdiction to cover misconduct complaints against school safety officers. To provide additional transparency, the NYCLU recommends expanding the Student Safety Act’s reporting requirements to include student arrest data broken down by school and information on students who are “discharged” from school. A “discharge” is someone who leaves the school system without being counted as a dropout or a graduate, thus inflating the graduation rate.

With more than 5,200 uniformed officers, the NYPD’s School Safety Division is the nation’s fifth-largest police force – larger than the police forces in Washington D.C., Detroit, Boston, Baltimore, Dallas or Las Vegas. There are far more police personnel in our schools than there are guidance counselors or social workers.

NYPD school safety officers have the authority to detain, search and arrest children, yet they receive only 14 weeks of training – compared to six months for police officers – and are not adequately trained to operate in the special environment of the schools. All too often, police personnel intervene in disciplinary matters best handled by educators.

Police activities and DOE zero tolerance practices have a disproportionate impact on schools serving the city’s black and Latino children from low income families. In these schools, which often have permanent metal detectors, students are suspended and even arrested for minor disciplinary infractions, such as talking back, horseplay, writing on a desk, or bringing a cell phone to school.

Though few students, parents and educators know how to file a misconduct complaint against School Safety Officers, the NYPD reports that it receives approximately 1,200 complaints a year about police misconduct in schools.

The NYCLU has been working for three years along with the Student Safety Coalition for passage of the Student Safety Act. The coalition is composed of the following organizations:

  • Advocates for Children of New York
  • Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325
  • Bronx Defenders
  • Children's Defense Fund – New York
  • Class Size Matters
  • Correctional Association of New York
  • CUNY Graduate Center Participatory Action Research Collective
  • DRUM - Desis Rising Up and Moving
  • Make the Road New York
  • NAACP-Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • NAACP New York State Conference
  • National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
  • National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter
  • New York Civil Liberties Union
  • New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
  • Suspension Representation Project
  • Teachers Unite
  • Urban Youth Collaborative
  • Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice