The New York Civil Liberties Union, Make the Road New York, the Urban Youth Collaborative and their partners in the Student Safety Coalition today joined Councilman Robert Jackson in introducing legislation that would bring transparency and accountability to the massive police presence in New York City’s schools. “We urge the City Council to pass this sensible legislation quickly,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “The Student Safety Act will shed much-needed light on police practices in our classrooms. It is a good first step toward establishing school safety procedures that promote learning instead of intimidation and unwarranted arrests.” The Student Safety Act would require quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and NYPD to the City Council on school safety issues, including incidents involving the arrest, expulsion or suspension of students, and a breakdown of information by students’ race, sex, and disability status. It also would expand the jurisdiction of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to include complaints against school safety agents, NYPD employees who have not had the rigorous training required to work in a school environment, yet patrol the schools and have the power to frisk, search and arrest students.

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Since taking control of school safety in 1998, mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg assigned more than 5,000 school safety agents and at least 200 armed police officers to the city’s public schools. This massive presence makes the NYPD’s school safety division larger than all but four of the nation’s police forces – larger than Washington DC, Detroit, Boston or Las Vegas. That massive, unchecked presence creates a hostile atmosphere that makes it difficult to learn and often leads to the mistreatment of students and educators. Twenty-four City Council members are cosponsoring the bill, which Councilman Jackson officially introduced today. “I am proud to introduce this important legislation with the support of so many of my colleagues,” said Councilman Jackson, chairman of the council’s Education Committee. “It is a common-sense solution that is long overdue. Ensuring students’ safety is not a controversial matter. We all want safe schools, and this bill helps us meet that goal.” This last school year alone, school safety agents handcuffed Denis Rivera, a 5-year-old special education student, for throwing a temper tantrum in his kindergarten class. Mark Federman, a principal at East Side Community High School, was arrested for trying to prevent the police from humiliating his student. And last school year, 13-year-old Chelsea Fraser was handcuffed and arrested for scribbling “okay” on her desk. These are not isolated incidents. They are just the few that have made headlines. “Overly aggressive police tactics in school disrupts learning,” said Udi Ofer, NYCLU advocacy director. “Too often minor disciplinary infractions that once resulted in a trip to the principal’s office now result in a trip to the precinct. Being late to class or writing on your desk should not be treated like a criminal act. Yet our kids are getting arrested for it.” Few students, parents and educators know of how to file a misconduct complaint against student safety agents. Yet even without a publicized mechanism for reporting abuse, Commissioner Ray Kelly has reported that the NYPD received more than 2,700 complaints from 2002-2007 about police misconduct in schools. The Student Safety Act will provide a means for registering complaints with the CCRB against NYPD personnel in the schools. It also will provide the public with raw data to study the impact of disciplinary and security practices, and encourage the crafting of more effective procedures. “Students face harassment from school safety agents on a daily basis. We’re students, not criminals,” said 17-year-old Jaritza Geigel, a student at Bushwick School for Social Justice and a youth leader from Make the Road New York. “Students have the right to go to school each day free from harassment. With 5,000 school safety agents patrolling our schools, there needs to be a meaningful way to hold them accountable. Passing the Student Safety Act is the first necessary step in creating safe and respectful schools.” The aggressive policing of the city’s schools reflects an alarming nationwide trend that drives students, mostly poor and minority children, from the education system to the criminal justice system. “Resource-strapped school districts around the country have all but abandoned the goal of providing quality education to each and every student,” said Damon Hewitt, assistant counsel for the NAACP-Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Instead, under pressure to reform, they focus their energy into devising ways to exclude students from mainstream educational settings. At a time when we should be providing more resources toward quality education and meeting the needs of each student, we see the most neglected and underserved students being criminalized.” The Student Safety Coalition is composed of the following organizations: Advocates for Children of New York, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325, Children's Defense Fund – New York, Class Size Matters, Correctional Association of New York, CUNY Graduate Center Participatory Action Research Collective, Make the Road New York, NAACP-Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter, NYCLU, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Suspension Representation Project, Teachers Unite, and Urban Youth Collaborative.