Testimony Regarding the Student Safety Act
Testimony of Donna Lieberman, Udi Ofer, and Johanna Miller on behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union before the New York City Council Education, Public Safety and Juvenile Justice Committees on the Student Safety Act (intro. no. 442) The New York Civil Liberties Union respectfully submits the following testimony in support of Int. 442, also known as “the Student Safety Act.” With 48,000 members and eight offices, the New York Civil Liberties Union is one of the leading defenders of civil liberties and civil rights in New York State. For many years as part of our dedication to protecting the right to a quality education for all of New York City’s children, we have worked to understand and respond to the impact of school safety and disciplinary practices on New York City’s students. We strongly support passage of the Student Safety Act because it will allow advocates and policymakers to better study safety and discipline practices, and determine whether such practices needlessly push young people out of school and into the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. The Student Safety represents an important first step toward creating safer schools that treat all children in a dignified and respectful manner. The legislation will provide the City Council regular access to data that is vital to monitoring the fairness and efficacy of the city’s school safety and discipline system, and whether students of color and students with special needs disproportionately face the brunt of this system. Safety is, of course, a vital component of a successful school environment. But equally vital is the right of a child—even a child who misbehaves—to be secure in uninterrupted enrollment at her school, and to know that the adults at the school will treat her with dignity and respect. Therefore, we wholeheartedly support the passage of this bill, and emphasize the need for a commitment from the City Council to enforce its mandates. I. Overview of School Safety and Disciplinary Practices a. The Rise of Police in Schools In 1998, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the Board of Education entered into an agreement that transferred school safety responsibilities to the NYPD. The transfer was accomplished through a compromise: the Giuliani administration promised that the number of police personnel in the schools would not increase (1). The transfer also complemented Mayor Giuliani’s philosophy of policing. Throughout his tenure, Mayor Giuliani subscribed to the theory that law-and-order could be best established by aggressively enforcing minor offenses (2). His philosophy was imported from the streets into New York City schools, where children today can be, and have been, subjected to criminal punishments for minor infractions such as horseplay or writing on a desk. Since the transfer in 1998, and despite the promises made at the time, the school safety division of the NYPD has grown by 64 percent to 5,200 personnel and is now, standing alone, the fifth largest police force in the nation (3). There are more officers in the School Safety Division. Footnotes: 1. Lynette Holloway, “Board Votes to Give Police Control Over School Security,” The New York Times, 17 Sept, 1998. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/17/nyregion/board-votes-to-give-police-co..., last Accessed 19 Nov. 2010; Timothy Williams, “NYC Turns School Security Over to Police,” Associated Press, 17 Sept. 1998. 2. Academy of Achievement, “New York’s Pillar of Strength,” 3 May 2003. Available at http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/giu0int-1, Last Accessed 19 Nov. 2010. 3. American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties Union, “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools” (2007); Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Make the Road New York, and New York Civil Liberties Union, “Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools” (2009).