Hundreds of New York City students and parents today joined local lawmakers and the Student Safety Coalition in front of Tweed Hall to rally support for the Student Safety Act, legislation being considered by the City Council that will bring transparency and accountability to NYPD activity and Department of Education suspension practices in the city’s schools.
“This should be the year that New York City schools win the race to the top – not just for federal funding but for successfully educating all of our children,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The City Council can take a good first step toward ensuring that all schools are safe environments where youth can graduate on time by passing the Student Safety Act.”
The Student Safety Act will require the NYPD and DOE to report regularly to the City Council on the numbers of suspensions, expulsions and arrests in schools. Information will be broken down by students’ race, sex, age, disability and socioeconomic status. The council and public can use this data to develop better school safety policies and ensure that discipline is enforced equitably throughout the school system.
For years, advocates have requested this data through the state Freedom of Information Law, but the DOE and NYPD have resisted those requests.
“The time has come to push the Student Safety Act forward,” Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito said. “New York City students have waited long enough for these important protections. Both the City Council and advocates have worked hard to address many of the concerns expressed by the DOE, the NYPD and safety officers themselves.”
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 more police in our schools than there are guidance counselors.
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. All too often, this police presence has led to interventions by law enforcement situations that should be handled by educators.
Take, for example, Denis 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.
The escalation of police activity in the schools has also created a de facto zero tolerance policy in schools serving the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In these schools, which often have permanent metal detectors, students are suspended and even arrested for minor disciplinary infractions.
“The Student Safety Act will help students stay in school and ensures that we have some place to go if we have problems with school safety issues,” said Nazifa Nahbub, a 17-year-old senior at Long Island City High School and a youth leader for DRUM, Desis Rising Up and Moving.
“We need the Student Safety Act passed by the end of 2010 so no more students will be criminalized,” said Praz Barua, a youth leader for DRUM and the Urban Youth Collaborative. “This bill will create the transparency that we desperately need in our schools.”
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 Coalition works to create safe, respectful school environments and ensure the right to education for all students. It 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