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New York Wants Police to Stop Arresting Students for Minor Misbehavior

school to prison pipeline mou
By: Johanna Miller Director, Education Policy Center, Education Policy Center

In some New York schools, students can get arrested for “acting boisterous in a hallway.”

The NYCLU has represented students arrested for just that, and we’ve also come to the defense of students apprehended for having a cell phone and starting a food fight.

Thankfully, it appears the state is moving towards making sure these types of arrests don’t happen anymore.

Last week, the New York State legislature adopted a new requirement for school districts that will reduce and regulate the role of police in our schools. The new law requires every district to make clear that school employees are responsible for school discipline. We’re hopeful this will cut down on the number of kids being exposed to the criminal justice system for minor misbehavior. This is a victory for advocates trying to shut down the school-to-prison-pipeline that carries students from the classroom into the hands of police.

The criminal justice system is simultaneously too harsh and too lenient a punishment for kids who act up. It’s too harsh because they could face lifelong consequences; too lenient because it fails to hold them accountable to their teachers and peers for disruption. Alternatives like restorative practices do the opposite—they require young people to take responsibility for their actions, in the classroom, and to restore the harm their actions caused in the community. 

We estimate there are 9,000 law enforcement officers and security guards working in New York schools. But there are no statewide standards for how they do their jobs. In some schools, police are responsible for maintaining classroom and hallway discipline, in others, they respond only to emergency calls for assistance, and in others they are only responsible for checking visitors into the building.

New York State is now saying, unequivocally, that educators are the ones who should respond to kids who break school rules. 

The lack of statewide standards results in unfair outcomes for students. Behavior that is considered merely disruptive in one school could be treated as a crime in a school where police patrol the hallways.

Predictably, it is mostly black kids who are targeted by law enforcement for these types of arrests; data from across the country confirms that police are far less likely to arrest white students for non-dangerous behaviors.

New York State is now saying, unequivocally, that educators are the ones who should respond to kids who break school rules. This puts teachers in control of managing their classrooms and allows them to teach kids self-regulation and accountability in the process.

Now we’re asking the state to put its money where its mouth is and provide $50 million to support teachers in this work, by hiring more counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals in each school. 

The new law requires school districts to get input from students, parents, educators, and community members on what their new agreements with local police departments should look like. This is a wonderful opportunity to do your part to stop the school-to-prison-pipeline in your own community. If you want to get involved, you can reach out to our chapter staff in your area.

Each New York community has its own specific needs. But kids in every school have the right to an education, and they all deserve the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
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Civil Liberties Union