September 20, 2018

Testimony of Stefanie Coyle on behalf of The New York Civil Liberties Union

Before the New York City Council’s Committee on Education and Committee on Public Safety 

On School Emergency Preparedness and Safety

The New York Civil Liberties Union (“NYCLU”) respectfully submits the following testimony on School Emergency Preparedness and Safety.  We would like to thank the Committees on Education and Public Safety for giving the NYCLU the opportunity to provide testimony today on this important topic. 

I.                         Introduction

            The NYCLU, the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization with nine offices across New York state and more than 210,000 members and supporters. The NYCLU’s mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles, rights, and constitutional values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York. Protecting and expanding students’ rights is a core component of our mission, and through our Youth and Students’ Rights program the NYCLU advocates for positive school climate and equitable access to quality education for all students.

As a founding member of the Student Safety Coalition, the NYCLU partnered with students, parents, and advocates across the City to urge the Council to enact the Student Safety Act—a first-of-its-kind reporting law on student safety and discipline in schools. The Student Safety Act has given the public a rare view into schools’ inner workings, revealing a disciplinary system that continues to be deeply biased against Black and Latino students and students with disabilities. These students are suspended and arrested at alarmingly high rates relative to their enrollment, and are suspended more often, for longer periods of time, and for more subjective infractions than their peers, issues that the NYCLU has been tirelessly advocating to end.[1] We serve on the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline and we work regularly with individual educators and young people, including more than 100 members of our Teen Activist Project. Our work to reform school discipline affords us a unique perspective on the attempted hardening of schools and its impact on school climate and on students.

In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, districts across the country have added security features such as armed guards, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras to schools, yet it is unclear whether any of those measures are effective in preventing violent incidents.[2] The conversation on preventing school violence has been almost exclusively focused on hardening, without an equivalent focus on school climate—including proven techniques for nurturing a safe and healthy student body. We are concerned that the proposed package of introductions is shortsighted, in that it focuses on school hardening rather than supportive and restorative measures for students. It is critical that the City Council consider the school climate impact of proposals affecting schools, including the threat that criminal justice measures pose to students of color. 

We enthusiastically support Res. 514, but we oppose the Introductions that make up the proposed school security Task Force. We believe this Task Force is wasteful, duplicative, uninformed, and could cause serious harm to New York City kids.

II.                Proposed Introduction 921-A

Introduction 921-A purports to create a “School Emergency Preparedness Task force” (the “Task Force”) which “shall make recommendations concerning matters related to school emergencies” by adding a new section 14-176 to the administrative code of the city of New York.[3] The bill defines “school emergency” as a “situation involving a threat of harm to students, personnel, and/or facilities, including but not limited to natural, technological, and human-caused incidents, which require response from law enforcement.”[4] The Task Force will meet quarterly and will be comprised of the NYPD commissioner, the Chancellor of the DOE, and the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (“MOCJ”), or their designees. It will also include “individuals with expertise in the issues of school climate, restorative justice, and social-emotional competence.” The Task Force will seek guidance from a teacher, a non-teacher DOE staff member, a parent, and “any mayoral advisory group making recommendations relating to school climate and discipline.” Nine additional introductions flesh out the specific topics related to school emergencies that the Task Force would examine.[5]

We appreciate these efforts to continue the discussion on how to keep students safe, but we question the wisdom and the necessity of creating this body. Most obviously, one of the most important constituencies is missing from the proposal. When determining how to keep students safe, students must be a part of the conversation. The impact of school policing on students is widely misunderstood and here in New York City the least empowered students typically have the most interactions with criminal justice mechanisms in schools such as police officers and metal detectors. There can be little doubt that the impact of any additional policing measures in schools will be suffered by the city’s Black and Latino youth. To date, the city has failed to take effective measures to reduce racial disproportionality in school safety and discipline practices; even as arrests go down, the racial disparities are getting worse.[6] Without an explicit focus on the racial impact of its work, the proposed Task Force will inevitably contribute to this injustice. The City Council should ensure that a student representative is part of its school emergency task force and that student voices, particularly those of Black and Latino students, are clearly heard when making decisions about how to keep them safe.

We are also concerned that there will be potential duplication or even undermining of the work of the Mayor’s School Climate Leadership Team (“SCLT”). While it appears from Proposed Intro No. 921-A that the SCLT’s recommendations will be considered[7], adding another entity into the conversation may make it more difficult to streamline conversations about these important issues and may cause certain perspectives to be left out.

The SCLT has been grappling with issues of school climate and school safety for several years and has successfully brought together members of the NYPD School Safety Division, MOCJ, the DOE administration, teachers, administrators, students, and advocates from across the city. The SCLT has a wealth of relevant expertise and is a space where diverse groups such have managed to come together in compromise. Members of the SCLT have anxiously awaited the City’s announcement of an improved Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) between the NYPD and DOE for more than a year—and we ask now for the Council’s support in ensuring that a new MOU is adopted this year. We hope this revised policy document, once implemented, will restrict the use of police tactics in schools to true emergency situations and reduce the use of law enforcement to enforce regular school discipline. The overlap of the MOU revisions with the mandate of the proposed Task Force is significant, and there are myriad ways that the work of the Task Force could interfere with good policy changes in the MOU. We therefore encourage the City Council to consider the necessity of the School Emergency Task Force, and if it is created, to ensure it works with the SCLT to push the DOE and NYPD to issue a revised MOU that protects the students of New York.

III.             Proposed Introduction 912-A

Proposed Intro No. 912-A would require the Task Force to review “infrastructure security technologies, including best practices for ingress and egress.” While not specified in the proposal, these infrastructure security technologies could presumably include additional metal detectors, locking mechanisms, and surveillance cameras. If created, we urge the Task Force to undertake a critical review of the impacts of existing technologies on school climate, rather than taking an approach that focuses solely on adding or bolstering them.

Metal detectors have been used in city schools since the late 1980’s with the stated purpose of “maintain[ing] a safe and secure school environment and prevent[ing] weapons from being brought into the schools.”[8] However, according to DOE data, a majority of the items seized after a student passes through a metal detector are not weapons, and include cell phones, hairpins, cameras, and school supplies.[9] There is no transparent criteria for determining if a metal detector is working to make kids safer, is contributing to a negative school climate, or even if it is functioning properly.

During the 2017-2018 school year, there were 91 permanent scanning sites across the city, where 100,000 students are forced to walk through metal detectors every day.[10] Ninety percent of those children are Black or Latinx.[11] However, there is still no transparent criteria or public process for the addition or removal of metal detectors from a school. What process there is involves an opaque “data review” conducted by the DOE’s Office of Safety and Youth Development (OSYD) and the NYPD School Safety Division (“SSD”). However, “the final determination will be made by NYPD SSD.”[12] There is no indication of the type of data reviewed, any benchmarks, or important indicators that are considered, or whether school personnel, students, or parents can have any say at all. The DOE and NYPD should develop clear criteria for the data review that includes multiple years of data, the number of weapons found and confiscated, the number of scanning incidents that resulted in the issuance of summons, arrest or school discipline, and whether students are chronically late to class due to scanning delays.[13] The inquiry into the effects and effectiveness of a metal detector should be repeated throughout the school year and in real-time. Parents and students must understand where and why metal detectors are added or removed and should have some voice in the decision.

It is essential that the Task Force, if created, doesn’t undertake an agenda of increasing the use of metal detectors without a deep understanding of the impacts they have had on children for over 30 years. Again, we urge the Task Force to include representation of student voices, in order to hear firsthand about the actual experience of attending a school with metal detectors.

In addition, we are extremely concerned about the potential to use facial recognition technology (FRT) in schools, and again urge the Council to take a critical approach that fully considers the potential negative impacts on kids. Facial recognition technology is not appropriate for use in schools and is biased, inaccurate, and violates the privacy rights of students, teachers, and parents.

There are well-documented issues with the accuracy of facial recognition technology, particularly when used to identify women and people of color.[14] Furthermore, the databases to which the images are paired are also unreliable, and because they are provided by law enforcement, often disproportionately include young men of color.[15] This creates an unfair and undue risk of false identification for students of color, who are already far more likely to be unfairly targeted by the criminal justice and school discipline systems.

In addition, these systems infringe on the privacy rights of students, parents, and staff. These systems turn students’ and staff members’ every step into evidence of an infraction or crime and contribute to the criminalization of ordinary child misbehavior and personal interactions.[16] They could lead to unfair interrogations of students based on which classmates they associate with, a potential infringement of their First Amendment rights. We urge the City Council to enact a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in New York City schools and keep this harmful, inaccurate, biased, and untested technology away from children.

IV.             Proposed Introduction 923-A

Proposed Introduction No. 923-A would require the Task Force to consider “school emergency preparedness resources needed and available to nonpublic schools.” New York City should not use public funding to pay for services for nonpublic schools and the City Council should reject this topic from being examined by the Task Force.

To suggest that nonpublic schools, many of which are sectarian, that receive monetary support from their students and private donors should be financially supported by the City as well is not only bad policy, it is an example of potential unconstitutional government support for religious institutions. In a city as diverse as New York, where many public school kids lack access to working computers and other educational basics, it would be shameful for city leaders to consider offering precious taxpayer money to private institutions.

V.                Proposed Introduction 893-A

Proposed Intro No. 893-A would mandate that the Task Force consider “assigned posts of personnel inside and outside of schools, including but not limited to school safety agents, other department personnel, and department of education personnel.” This is an inquiry that is inextricably connected with both the existing and revised MOU, and must not be undertaken without close coordination with the SCLT. Indeed, rather than reviewing the posts of security personnel, the City Council should spend its time and resources considering the assignment (or lack) of school counselors, psychologists, and social workers to school buildings across the city.

VI.             Proposed Introduction 880

Proposed Introduction 880 is not part of the package of bills that make up the Task Force. This intro would repeal Section 528 of the New York City Charter, entitled “the installation and operation of security cameras and other security measures in New York City public schools.” It would create an additional chapter in the administrative code on “school security.”

The new provision and the one it is replacing are very similar, both requiring the DOE to install security cameras “where the chancellor, in consultation with the police department, deems such cameras appropriate for security purposes.” The intro will also require the DOE and NYPD to produce a report on the use of security cameras which includes “an assessment of best practices related to the installation and use of security cameras in school buildings, including evaluating policies related to access to video footage.” We urge that this assessment include ways to protect student privacy, prevent hacking, and consider the toll that the use of surveillance technologies exact on students, along with prohibiting the use of facial recognition equipped cameras in NYC schools. In addition, the Task Force must consider how both state and federal educational privacy laws restrict access to video footage.

VII.          Proposed Introduction 869-A

Proposed Intro No. 869-A would mandate that the Task Force consider “protocols for students experiencing a mental health crisis.” However, it is probable that the Task Force will not include any mental health professionals, given its required makeup. If the Task Force considers this topic, it is critical that mental health professionals are consulted. In addition, protocols for students experiencing mental health crises already exist, codified in Chancellor’s Regulation A-411, Behavioral Crisis De-Escalation/Intervention and Contacting 911.”[17] It is unclear whether the mandate of the Task Force will overlap with the existing DOE protocols and whether the same stakeholders that were involved in drafting the Regulation will be involved in the Task Force discussions. Again, this provision is intricately connected to the work and recommendations of the SCLT, and risks duplicating or undermining that work.

VIII.       Resolution 514

The NYCLU strongly supports Councilmember Treyger’s Resolution 514, which calls on the DOE “to provide one full-time guidance counselor and social worker for every 250 students and to ensure that all schools have at least one full-time guidance counselor or social worker.” In addition to this resolution, we urge the City Council to provide additional funding to add school counselors and social workers to schools across the city. In New York City schools, police officers outnumber guidance counselors and social workers combined by over 1,000.[18]

Nationwide, there are 27,000 sworn law enforcement officers but only 23,000 social workers in public schools.[19] Based on data from the Office for Civil Rights, during 2015-2016 school year, more than 10 million children attended schools that reported having school resource officers but no social workers. Further, 36 million children are enrolled in schools that do not meet the recommended 250:1 ration of counselors to students by the American School Counselors Association.[20]

While this is an issue that affects children across the country, in NYC the City Council has a unique opportunity to highlight this issue and to contribute funds to ensure that DOE meets this ratio. Students in each school in the city deserve to have access to a social worker and guidance counselor that will provide support and help build a positive school climate.

IX.             Recommendations

            The NYCLU has the following recommendations as the City Council considers the Task Force introductions and other related bills:

1.      Add a student representative to the Task Force and ensure that impacted student perspectives are considered when discussing school emergencies.

2.      The Task Force should work together with the SCLT to push the DOE and NYPD to issue a revised MOU that protects the students of New York.

3.      Review the use of metal detectors, surveillance cameras and other “infrastructure security technologies” to assess the impact on school climate and create transparent criteria for the introduction and removal of metal detectors in schools.

4.      Impose a moratorium on facial recognition technology in New York City schools.

5.      Reject Intro. No. 923-A that would consider the use of public school resources on nonpublic schools.

6.      Pass Resolution 514 and provide funding through the City Council to supplement the number of guidance counselors and social workers in NYC schools.

X.                Conclusion

We thank the New York City Council’s Committees on Education and Public Safety for considering this testimony. In considering how to help students feel safe and supported, it is critical to center their voices and ensure that school hardening measures do not funnel more students into the school-to-prison-pipeline.


[1] NYCLU, Student Safety Act Reporting on Suspensions 2017-2018, https://www.nyclu.org/en/student-safety-act-data.

[2] Caitlin Emma, Why hardening schools hasn't stopped school shootings, Politico, March 1, 2018, available at https://www.politico.com/story/2018/03/01/school-shootings-security-guns-431424.

[4] Id. (emphasis added).

[5] See Proposed Int. No. 866-A, Proposed Int. No. 869-A, Proposed Int. No. 872-A, Proposed Int. No. 876-A, Proposed Int. No. 893-A, Proposed Int. No. 894-A, Proposed Int. No. 912-A, Proposed Int. No 922-A, Proposed Int. No. 923-A. The Task Force proposal consists of ten introductions. While some of them suggest important topics within emergency preparedness to consider, questions remain about many of them. The NYCLU will not provide comment on each of the introductions discussed at today’s hearing but will comment on selected introductions.

[6] For the 2nd Quarter of 2018 (April 1- June 30), nearly 90% of all arrests were of Black and Latino students. Black and Latino students accounted for 91% of child-in-crisis incidents where handcuffs were used. See NYCLU, Student Safety Act Data, 2011-2018, available at https://www.nyclu.org/en/student-safety-act-data.

[7] Proposed Int. No. 921-A, § 14-176 (e) (“Such task force shall seek input from at least one teacher employed by the department of education; at least one staff person employed by the department of education who is not a teacher, such as a guidance counselor or social worker; at least one parent of a student currently enrolled in a New York city public school; and any mayoral advisory group making recommendations relating to school climate and discipline.”) (emphasis added).

[9] NYCLU Report, A,B,C,D, STPP: How School Discipline Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Oct. 2014, page 32-33, https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/publications/nyclu_STPP_1021_FINAL.pdf (last visited Sept. 14, 2018).  

[10] Christina Veiga, Only one school campus has asked to have metal detectors added or removed since New York City created guidelines for requesting changes, Chalkbeat, December 5, 2017, available at https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/12/05/only-one-school-campus-has-asked-to-have-metal-detectors-added-or-removed-since-new-york-city-created-process-for-requesting-changes/; see also Cecilia Reyes, 100,000 NYC School Children Face Airport-Style Security Screening Every Day, ProPublica, Jan. 12, 2016, available at https://www.propublica.org/article/nyc-school-children-face-airport-styl....

[11] Johanna Miller, Sy Abudu, What If New York City Swarmed Schools with Guidance Counselors?, Feb. 5, 2018, NYCLU Blog, https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/what-if-new-york-city-swarmed-schools-guidance-counselors.

[13] Safety With Dignity, Complete Report by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, p. 30, July 2015, available at http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/sclt/downloads/pdf/safety-with-dignity-final-....

[14] Sidney Fussell, Schools are Spending Millions on High Tech Surveillance of Kids, Gizmodo, March 16, 2018, https://gizmodo.com/schools-are-spending-millions-on-high-tech-surveillance-1823811050.

[15] Id.; see also, Sidney Fussell, School Districts can Hardly Wait to Start Tracking Kids with Police State-Style Face Recognition, Gizmodo, May 21, 2018, https://gizmodo.com/school-districts-can-hardly-wait-to-start-tracking-kids-1826197713.

[16] Id.

[17] This Regulation was the result of the settlement of a lawsuit, T.H. v. Fariña, brought by Legal Services NYC. See T.H., et al. v. Fariña, et al., Case No. 1:13-cv-08777-JLC (SDNY Dec. 15, 2014).

[18] There are currently 4,173 guidance counselors and social workers in NYC DOE schools. New York City DOE, Report on Guidance Counselors Pursuant to Local Law 56 of 2014, February 15, 2018, available at http://infohub.nyced.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/guidancecounselorreportandsummaryfeb_2018_final.docx?sfvrsn=d565ade9_2. There are approximately 5,200 school safety agents.  https://twitter.com/nypdschools?lang=en.

[19] Daniel Losen and Amir Whitaker, 11 Million Days Lost: Race, Discipline, and Safety at U.S. Public Schools, The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, available at https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline/race-discipline-and-safety-us-public-schools?redirect=schooldiscipline.

[20] Id.

 

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