The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s refusal to disclose information about the transportation of public school students from their schools to psychiatric facilities at the city’s public hospitals.
The lawsuit, an Article 78 proceeding, was filed Friday in State Supreme Court in New York County. According to press reports and personal accounts from students and parents, public school students have been inappropriately transferred from school to psychiatric emergency rooms for psychological evaluations following minor classroom disturbances and disciplinary infractions.
Responding to these reports, the NYCLU on March 26, 2008 filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the NYPD for documents pertaining to the transfer of students from their schools to the public hospitals for psychological evaluation. The NYPD has neither provided any records, nor explained why the information cannot be disclosed.
“The NYPD’s growing obsession with secrecy is unacceptable and incompatible with open government,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “The public has the right to know whether children are being whisked from their classrooms to psych wards without justification or parental permission – an experience that terrifies parents and causes students unnecessary distress. Hiding this information from the public only perpetuates a broken school safety system.”
The Department of Education was not named in this lawsuit because it complied with a similar FOIL request. The DOE reported, however, that it keeps no records on police taking students from their schools to hospitals.
“Under the Bloomberg administration, extracting public information from both the NYPD and DOE has been an onerous and time-consuming process,” Lieberman said. “This lawsuit is about the NYPD, but the DOE has failed, too. There should be no secret about what is happening to our kids in school.”
The NYCLU initiated its FOIL request following a January 2008 incident in which Queens 5-year-old Dennis Rivera was handcuffed by NYPD personnel and taken by ambulance to Elmhurst Hospital Center for psychological evaluation after throwing a tantrum in the principal’s office at Public School 81 in Queens. School Chancellor Joel Klein has called the incident “troubling.”
More recently, Rohan Morgan, a 16-year-old student at Hillcrest High School in Queens, was taken to Long Island Jewish Hospital for psychiatric evaluation in July 2008 after school safety agents caught him with a cell phone on school premises – a minor violation of school rules.
“A thorough review of the NYPD’s policies and practices for transferring students to psychiatric hospitals for psychological evaluation requires access to these records,” said Adriana Piñón, a NYCLU staff attorney and lead counsel on the case. “If the police department will not voluntarily release the information, we are confident that the courts will require it do so.”
The NYCLU, as well as 28 New York City Council members, supports passage of the Student Safety Act, Intro. 816, a bill that would require the DOE to publicly report on arrests in schools.