Thanks to years of aggressive organizing and public education led by youth, parents, teachers and advocates, the number of arrests and tickets issued at New York City public schools declined during the fourth quarter of 2012, according to data released today by the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York and the New York Civil Liberties Union. But while the decline is good news, disparities in arrests and tickets remain shockingly high with black and Latino students bearing the brunt of the NYPD’s school discipline policies. Furthermore, this data does not present a full picture, reflecting only the first three months of school during a period when Hurricane Sandy resulted in fewer school days.

According to City Council data collected under the Student Safety Act, there were 141 arrests and 196 summonses issued between October 1 and December 31, 2012. This is a 49 percent decrease in arrests and a 63 percent decrease in summonses compared to the same three month period in 2011. But 93 percent of arrested students were black or Latino, with many arrested for minor offenses. Disorderly conduct charges, a catch-all category that can sweep in just about any kind of youthful indiscretion, accounted for more than half of the summonses issued and 71 percent of arrests were for misdemeanors. Furthermore, 20 percent of arrests were of students between the ages of 10 and 14.

"Although the data shows a decrease in the number of student arrests and summonses, our black and Latino students, especially those with special needs, continue to face a stark reality in our schools. The recent incidents involving elementary school aged children being handcuffed or sent to the police precinct are clear indications of our schools being over-policed. The disciplinary code and culture of our schools need to be reformed to reflect progressive guidance intervention techniques," said New York City Councilmember Robert Jackson. "Our work will not be done until these numbers are zeroed out and guidance counselors, social workers, and mentoring climates become a mainstay in all learning environments."

“The numbers seem less than what we as young people experience in reality with cops in schools. But it’s still the same things; youth of color are still policed in schools just like we’re being policed in the streets through stop and frisk policies. We need restorative justice, counselors, mentors, peer mediators to be there for us, not cops who are going to arrest us,” said Manny Yusuf, a 15 year-old Youth Leader with Desis Rising Up and Moving and Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY.

The data collected under the Student Safety Act over the last two years validates community concerns about excessive policing towards historically marginalized communities. There are still more than 5,100 School Safety Officers in New York City schools, but only 3,200 guidance counselors.

“Parents, teachers and everyone who has been ringing the alarm bell over the criminalization of our youth should be proud of the significant decline in arrests and summonses issued in our schools, and the Department of Education should be commended for this important step in the right direction,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “But there is still a lot more work to do. If the Bloomberg administration is serious about helping young men of color succeed, it must address the fact that too many children are still coming into contact with the criminal justice system when they should be getting an education, and that youth of color are still getting disproportionally targeted by the police. Our school resources should be focused on educating children, not arresting them.”

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York (DSC-NY) is calling on the Department of Education to continue efforts to reduce the arrests happening under their watch in New York City public schools. There cannot be substantive change without a real investment in preventive measures that require schools to have sufficient numbers of guidance counselors and strong positive discipline-based programming with training and support for teachers.

“Although the numbers of arrests and summonses have been reduced; they still occur. How many hundreds of interactions with police in schools are not included in these numbers and how many thousands of students need support but don’t receive a positive intervention?” asked Michelle Reyes of New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee and the Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY. “Positive interventions like peer mediation, counseling or a restorative circle will help students discuss the cause of their action and find an alternative solution.”

The data was obtained as a result of the Student Safety Act that Mayor Bloomberg signed into law on January 6, 2011, which requires the Department of Education and NYPD to report quarterly to the City Council on various measures of student safety.

The DSC-NY coalition calls for citywide funding and implementation of positive, school-wide approaches to discipline that improve school climate, reduce conflict, and increase learning.
Members include: Advocates for Children of New York, American Friends Service Committee- NY, Brooklyn Movement Center, Center for Community Alternatives, Children’s Defense Fund-New York, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, YAYA Network, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent.