New York City will pay $55,500 to settle a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a Queens 12th grader who was physically abused by a school safety agent last year and left bleeding and distraught in a high school restroom.
The settlement, approved by a federal judge, was announced as the City Council prepares to hold hearings next Tuesday on the Student Safety Act, common sense legislation designed to bring transparency to police activity in the city’s public schools.
Stephen Cruz suffered a lacerated forehead on Sept. 19, 2008 at Robert F. Kennedy High School in Flushing when a school safety agent (SSA), without provocation, allegedly kicked open a restroom stall that Stephen was using. The door struck Stephen’s face, cutting him below his hairline. The SSA, an NYPD employee, walked away without offering to help the bleeding student. Stephen’s family sued the city on Nov. 20, 2008. That same day, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint against the SSA with the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau on Stephen’s behalf.
“The settlement does not change the fact that Stephen was recklessly and pointlessly assaulted at school by an adult assigned to protect him,” said Jeffrey A. Rothman, the family’s attorney. “The City Council must take action to ensure other students don’t experience similar abuse.”
The incident illustrated the tension and lack of transparency and accountability that has existed in schools since school safety was transferred from the Department of Education to the NYPD in 1998. The school’s principal apparently indicated to the family that he had no authority to discipline the SSA. The principal could not even investigate the incident beyond submitting an online report to the DOE.
“This outrageous incident underscores the glaring need to bring transparency and accountability to the NYPD’s presence in our city’s public schools,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “Passing the Student Safety Act would be a smart first step toward ensuring that the city’s schools are safe, nurturing learning environments.”
The Student Safety Act, which is cosponsored by 33 of 50 council members, would require quarterly reporting by the DOE and NYPD to the City Council on a wide range of 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. This information could be used to craft more effective student safety policies and procedures.
Students, families, educators and advocates – including Rothman and the Cruz family – will testify this Tuesday at a hearing before the City Council’s Public Safety, Education and Juvenile Justice committees on the Student Safety Act. Hundreds of students will join the NYCLU and its partners in the Student Safety Coalition at a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hall at noon on Nov. 10. The hearing begins at 1 p.m.