September 29, 2015

The New York City Council is set to pass a set of sweeping reforms to the Student Safety Act that will result in increased data reporting on school discipline practices and their impact on our city’s children. The amendments will require, for the first time, reporting by both the NYPD and the Department of Education on the use of metal detectors, handcuffs and restraints in city schools.

“Amending the Student Safety Act is an important step toward fair, safe and nurturing school environments for all of the city’s schoolchildren,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Complete data transparency on school discipline and law enforcement practices is essential to evaluate current policies, end unacceptable racial disparities, support kids with special needs, and ensure that all children are treated with respect and dignity. No child should end up in the police precinct when what they really need is help from a guidance counselor or social worker.”

For years, schoolchildren in New York City have been subject to overly aggressive practices by police in their schools. There are more police personnel in New York City public schools than there are on the streets of almost every major city in the United States. The NYPD admits its school safety officers, who are not trained as educators, use restraints and handcuffs on kids as young as 5-years-old. Moreover, over 100,000 students in the city are estimated to walk through metal detectors to enter school every day.

The Student Safety Act, passed in 2011, addresses the lack of transparency about many overly aggressive disciplinary tactics. The Act requires quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and NYPD to the City Council on school safety and disciplinary issues, including incidents involving arrests and suspensions of students. It provides the public with raw data to study the impact of disciplinary practices and, since its enactment, has lead directly to the adoption of more effective alternatives.

The amendments passed today will further increase transparency by closing loopholes in the Student Safety Act and improve public disclosure of comprehensive data on school suspensions and law enforcement activity in schools, including:

  • The use of permanent and roving metal detectors;
  • The use of handcuffs on students;
  • Inappropriate use of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for behavior and discipline-related incidents;
  • Students who are repeatedly suspended in the same school year;
  • Arrests and summonses issued by all NYPD personnel; and
  • Schools that suspend zero students.

All changes are set to take effect January 1, 2016.

Since 2007, the NYCLU has published four major investigations of school discipline, documenting the disparate impact of zero tolerance and street policing tactics on children of color and those with special needs. The NYCLU also filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of middle and high school students who were physically abused and wrongfully arrested at school by NYPD personnel. Currently, NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman is part of Mayor de Blasio’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, which in July released a report that provided a roadmap to improving school climate while minimizing the use of suspensions, arrests, summonses and other excessively harsh discipline practices.

“Today’s amendments build upon the reforms advocated by the New York Civil Liberties Union for nearly a decade that aim to make schools safer, more supportive learning environments for the city’s most vulnerable children,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Johanna Miller. “We look forward to continuing our advocacy on behalf of New York’s 1 million school children, and our work with Mayor de Blasio’s Leadership Team. Today the City Council, the Mayor and advocates are working together to end the criminalization of school discipline, and promoting positive alternatives to keep kids in school.”