New York Civil Liberties Union Director Donna Lieberman asked the New York City Council this morning to address the mounting problems caused by overpolicing in New York City schools.
Lieberman testified before the New York City Council Committees on Education and Public Safety, which had convened a hearing on the topic of cell phones in high schools.
"Schools must be kept safe for students, but the current regime goes way beyond safety," Lieberman said. "That police officers are enforcing the cell phone ban is just the latest example of over-policing in our city's public schools. No teenage girl should have to lift up her shirt in order to get into a school to prove to a police officer that she's wearing an underwire bra and not a cell phone -- but that's what's happening in the NYC schools. It humiliates the students, it undermines the teachers, and it undermines education."
Cops in New York City's high schools now enforce not only safety violations but also schools' dress codes and speech codes, as well as the city-wide bans on mp3 players and cell phones. In so doing, they often ignore or contradict teachers and principals.
Lieberman urged the City Council to investigate and begin to remedy the problem by conducting oversight hearings on the issue of police in schools; retaining an independent consulting firm to prepare, on a pro bono basis, an Educational Impact Statement evaluating the need for and impact of metal detectors on education; and establishing a meaningful complaint and oversight process to hold police accountable for abusive behavior towards students. She noted that the DOE has ignored several NYCLU requests for information about policies, practices and training for police assigned to schools.
In response to the DOE's failure to provide information or address the problem, the NYCLU recently launched a campaign to address the symptoms over-policing in New York City's schools. Earlier this year the NYCLU filed a lawsuit, Kronen v. New York City, on behalf of two Bronx High School teachers who were arrested, handcuffed, and verbally abused by NYPD police officers without cause after they questioned the officers for handcuffing students who had been involved in a fight. This month the NYCLU is sponsoring a contest asking high-school-aged youth to speak out -- through spoken word, visual art, music, or writing -- on the topic of policing in schools.
"Wearing a hat to assembly or carrying a cell phone in a school back pack is not a criminal offense," Lieberman said. "The disciplinary response to such behavior should come from trained educators using educational techniques, not cops using metal detectors, summonses, chokeholds and handcuffs."
The NYCLU Board recently adopted an interim policy acknowledging that scanners and other forms of heavy-handed police presence in New York schools have profound negative impact on the education and privacy rights of children. The policy emphasizes that students have a right to go to school in safe educational environment where they are protected both from violence and from intrusions into their bodily space and belongings.
"These policies are raising a whole generation of young people with a diminished expectation of privacy," said Arthur Eisenberg, NYCLU Legal Director. "This is not healthy for education -- or for our democracy."
Click here to read the board's policy on scanners and policing in schools
Click here for more information about the contest
Click here for more information about the Kronen case