Youth, Advocates Stand with Speaker Quinn in Support of the Student Safety Act

December 16, 2010 —  Students and parents today joined New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and the Student Safety Coalition at City Hall to support 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.

“We thank Speaker Quinn and the City Council’s leadership for supporting this important legislation, which will be one of the most progressive school safety reporting laws in the country,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The Student Safety Act is an important first step toward establishing school safety policies that provide all of the city’s students a safe and nurturing learning environment. There is more work to do, but this bill provides a strong foundation for moving forward.”

The City Council’s Education, Public Safety and Juvenile Justice Committees are holding a joint hearing this afternoon on the Student Safety Act, which was introduced by Education Committee Chairman Robert Jackson.

“Students trust that when they are in the care and supervision of their school, they will be safe. That trust must never be broken,” said Speaker Quinn.” The Student Safety Act will help make sure the city provides a safe and secure learning environment for our children by promoting transparency in the way discipline is administered and schools are policed. Thanks to the dedication and collaborative work of the Council, Department of Education, NYPD and the Student Safety Coalition, we now have real accountability for students.”

The legislation, Int. No. 442, 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 bill will require bi-annual reports on the discipline of students, including the number of suspensions citywide for each month.

“It’s important that we know who is being suspended and for what,” said Jose Burgos, a 17-year-old member of Future of Tomorrow. “At my school, students get suspended for bringing a bottle of juice or water into school – forcing them to miss class and miss the opportunity to learn. Students go to school to learn, so this doesn’t make sense. This act will reveal things like that.”

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, 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.

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.

The number of school safety officers in New York City schools has increased by 46 percent under the Bloomberg administration (from 3,600 to 5,200). The Department of Education spends approximately $300 million a year to pay for police personnel in the schools. The amount spent on school safety has actually increased in the past year, compared to most other parts of the education budget that have been slashed.

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.

Take, for example, Dennis Rivera, a 5-year-old special education student who was handcuffed for throwing a temper tantrum in his kindergarten class. The NYPD handcuffed and arrested 12-year-old Alexa Gonzalez in school for scribbling on her desk in erasable marker. And Mark Federman, a principal at East Side Community High School, was arrested for trying to prevent the police from humiliating his honor roll student.

“I am so pleased that the City Council is close to passing this historic legislation,” said Jaritza Geigel, a youth leader for Make the Road New York. “As a young person who has fought to pass the Student Safety Act for almost three years, I am very proud of the work we have done.”

The escalation of police activity has created a de facto zero tolerance policy in 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.

“One day I had to stay late in one class to clean up after a presentation. After the class ended I stayed behind to wrap up and on my way to my next class I ended up in the sweep room – where students are forced to go when they’re late for class,” said Leesha Harbajan, a 17-year-old member of Desis Rising Up & Moving. “You end up missing your next class and you do nothing in the room. If you’re there more then 2 to 3 times in a week you may be suspended. When the Student Safety Act is passed the reasons why students are being suspended would be clear.”

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 Student Safety Act will require operators of the city’s 311 system to inform callers that complaints against school safety officers will be transferred to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

“Families need a meaningful mechanism to file complaints against abusive school safety officers,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “The City Council should strengthen the Civilian Complaint Review Board and broaden its jurisdiction to accept complaints against abusive school safety officers. At the same time, the council should take steps to ensure that NYPD personnel do not enforce school disciplinary rules that are best handled by educators.”

The Student Safety Coalition works to create safe, respectful school environments and ensure the right to education for all students. Many of the organizations in the coalition work on a daily basis to bring to New York City schools alternative models – such as restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions and supports – that have been proven to reduce school violence without relying on arrests or suspensions. 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