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March 1, 2019

NYCLU Analysis of Federal Civil Rights Data Reveals NYC Schools Failed to Accurately Report Police and Arrests in Schools

NEW YORK – Amid a nationwide conversation on school safety in the wake of tragic school shootings, the American Civil Liberties Union released today a comprehensive analysis of the most recent federal civil rights data, highlighting over-policing and discrimination in school discipline at the expense of investing in mental health support in schools. Drawing on the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey by the US Department of Education, the ACLU found that millions of students are in schools that have law enforcement officers but no support staff, such as social workers, nurses, psychologists, and counselors. 
 
The Department of Education released a report on school safety in December which acknowledged the significant safety impact that trained mental health professionals can have in schools. Yet, the Administration and school districts continue to overemphasize the role of law enforcement to keep kids safe.
 
“Student safety is not served by under resourcing mental health support and over criminalizing students,” said Stefanie Coyle, education counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union and an author of the ACLU report. “Funding for police in schools is on the rise, while public schools face a critical shortage of counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers. To keep students safe, we need to invest in resources and relationships that help students feel supported rather than criminalized.” 
 
The ACLU’s report found over 71 percent of students in New York attend public schools that fail to meet the nationally recommended ratios for the number of counselors to students. While the report compared the ratios of students to mental health professionals to the ratios of students to law enforcement officers in states across the country, such side-by-side analysis was not possible in New York because of gaps in the federal data. 
 
One of the most striking findings in New York was just how poorly reported the data was on how many law enforcement officers are in schools and how many arrests of students were made. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, failed to report critical statistics, leading to an incomplete picture of school policing in New York.
 
New York City school district did not report on the number of law enforcement officers in its schools, yet New York City schools are occupied by one of the largest police forces in the country. The NYPD School Safety Division employs approximately 5,090 school safety officers and 113 armed police. The number of police isn’t the only information missing from the federal data – New York City did not report on school-based arrests in the district. Yet, public reporting by the NYPD shows that there were at least 952 arrests of students in schools that year. 
 
The absence of accurate data from New York school districts makes it harder for the public and for policymakers to have a clear idea of how their schools are doing and how police are affecting students’ lives. We have the missing data on New York City only because of the Student Safety Act, a local law that requires transparency around school arrests and suspensions. 
 
“Sunshine is one of the best ways to hold districts and law enforcement agencies accountable. Data transparency should be the norm across the New York State,” said Johanna Miller, an author of NYC’s Student Safety Act and director of NYCLU’s Education Policy Center. “We’re calling on Albany to adopt the Safe and Supportive Schools Act to provide accurate public information, and to reduce and regulate the role of police in schools.”

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