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Letter: Cops Overstep Boundaries While Policing City Schools

February 15, 2005 VIA FACSIMILE AND REGULAR MAIL Chancellor Joel I. Klein New York City Department of Education Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly New York City Police Department Dear Chancellor Klein and Commissioner Kelly: We write to you regarding a recent controversy that raises important questions about the authority of a school principal to control the educational environment within the school and to protect children, and the inappropriate intrusion into this authority by School Safety Agents (SSAs) and police officers assigned to New York City schools. The New York Civil Liberties Union is concerned that certain policies and practices of SSAs and/or police officers in city schools subvert the authority of school principals. We are also concerned that the written guidelines governing SSAs and school-assigned police officers do not clearly recognize this authority and that the officer involved in the incidents of February 3, 2005 at the Bronx Guild High School exceeded the proper role of police officers in the schools. Finally, we are troubled by the removal of a principal and school aide from their school and seek their prompt return to the Bronx Guild community. The facts as we understand them from the Bronx Guild community are as follows. On February 3, 2005, a police officer assigned to Adlai E. Stevenson High School, an impact school that also houses the small, non-impact Bronx Guild High School, barged into a Bronx Guild classroom without permission from its principal in order to arrest a student. In doing so, Officer Juan Gonzalez disrupted the educational process, alarmed students, and ultimately arrested Principal Michael Soguero and School Aide James Burgos while they were trying to do their jobs as educators. Not one published account or report received by the New York Civil Liberties Union has indicated that there was any need or justification for Officer Gonzalez to enter the classroom without permission. As a result of the February 3 incident, Principal Soguero and School Aide Burgos were removed from their positions at Bronx Guild, and the student who was the cause of Officer Gonzalez’s actions was later arrested by others and charged with disorderly conduct. The school officials spent a night in jail. The student spent two, before being released with a Desk Appearance Ticket. As things stand now, Bronx Guild has lost its principal and a valued aide indefinitely, and all three face criminal charges. While Officer Gonzalez has been removed from Bronx Guild, we understand that he may still be in a student environment. We are struck by the fact that although two school officials have been removed from their school, a police officer who has pending against him a Civilian Complaint Review Board complaint alleging that he placed a student in a chokehold on January 18, 2005 may remain in a school setting. Certainly people who are dangerous to students should not be in schools. We question, however, whether the appropriate action has been taken against the appropriate people here. Procedures governing School Safety Agents and school-assigned police officers New York Education Law clearly establishes the authority of principals over their schools. The Chancellor’s Regulations and the New York City Police Department Patrol Guide, however, do not reflect the state legislative mandate or the sound principle of school governance. The deficiencies and contradictions in the Chancellor’s Regulations and the NYPD Patrol Guide must be corrected. The relevant sections of the state Education Law, the Chancellor’s Regulations and the Patrol Guide are set forth here:

  • Under section 2590-i(1) of the state Education Law, “[t]he principal shall be the administrative and instructional leader of the school. . . . ”
  • Patrol Guide section 215-13 states that “the desires of school personnel may be considered” by a police officer in determining whether a student arrest is warranted and that “the views of school personnel are NOT controlling.” (capitalization in original) This provision is clearly at odds with Patrol Guide sections 215-16 and 215-17 and Chancellor’s Regulation A-412 III(b), cited below.
  • Under section 215-16 of the Patrol Guide, the jurisdiction of SSAs and school-assigned police officers is over “public school-related criminal incident[s].” This section further states: “When a public school-related criminal incident occurs: a. On public school grounds . . . SCHOOL SAFETY AGENT/U.M.O.S. [Uniformed Member of the Service] ASSIGNED TO THE SCHOOL 1. Request police response . . . 2. Request School Safety Agent Level 3 to respond. 3. Notify school principal/designee.”
  • Patrol Guide section 215-17 states that, “[w]hen taking police action at Board of Education facilities . . . [a] uniformed member of the service [should] . . . 2. Confer with principal/school staff, except if exigent circumstances exist, when entering Board of Education school/facility to take police action.”
  • Chancellor’s Regulation A-412 III(b) states: “If the incident does not require an immediate arrest or other immediate action, the SSA and/or NYPD must, to the fullest extent practicable, consult with the principal/designee prior to placing the student under arrest or issuing any form of criminal process.”

Although the Chancellor’s Regulations and the Patrol Guide fail adequately to recognize the primacy of the principal’s authority within the school, even as they are currently drafted, it is clear that Officer Gonzalez’s behavior was unauthorized and inappropriate. This is so for several reasons. First, it is not the job of SSAs and school-assigned police officers to enforce school rules. (see Patrol Guide section 215-16) Second, nothing in the Patrol Guide or Chancellor’s Regulations authorizes SSAs or school-assigned police officers to enter school classrooms, as Officer Gonzalez did. Third, Officer Gonzalez violated Patrol Guide sections 215-16 and 215-17 and Chancellor’s Regulation A-412 III(b) by failing to notify or consult with the school principal or other school official before entering a classroom in order to effect an arrest. The underlying incident involving the Bronx Guild student that precipitated the arrests of the principal and school aide did not fall into the “exigent circumstances” exception delineated in Patrol Guide section 215-17. Nor did it require “an immediate arrest or other immediate action” under Chancellor’s Regulation A-412 III(b). Indeed, the student’s arrest did not occur until well after the officer and school officials had left her classroom, and the arrest was not effected by Officer Gonzalez. According to eyewitness testimony, the incident involving Officer Gonzalez developed when the student left her classroom without permission and was being escorted back by a school aide. She reportedly triggered Officer Gonzalez’s attention by making a loud statement in the hallway. These actions may violate school rules, but they are not against the law. Even if the student’s actions did rise to the level of a crime, the Chancellor’s Regulations and the Patrol Guide required Officer Gonzalez to consult with or notify the school principal before entering the classroom to arrest the student. Nonetheless, according to eyewitness accounts, Officer Gonzalez rejected a suggestion to have the principal handle the situation and announced that he would get the student from the classroom himself if the school official did not. Based on this corroborated report, it appears that Officer Gonzalez violated written guidelines. Apart from the problems that occurred at Bronx Guild on February 3, the paucity of clear, publicly available, written guidance concerning SSAs and school-assigned police officers yields the following questions:

  • What written guidelines, protocols or other materials, if any, aside from those identified above, govern the actions of police officers and SSAs in schools?
  • What special training and/or training materials are provided to police officers, SSAs, and school officials regarding the practices and policies of police officers and SSAs in schools?
  • Is there ongoing coordination and oversight of such trainings?
  • Is there joint training of school officials, and SSAs/school-assigned police officers?
  • When there is a conflict over disciplining a student, whose decision prevails: the principal’s, the teacher’s, the SSA’s, or the police officer’s?
  • What is the procedure for a parent, student, or school employee to follow if s/he has a question or complaint about the conduct of SSAs or police officers? How are members of the school community notified of the procedure?
  • What mechanisms, if any, are in place to evaluate the activities of police officers and SSAs in schools?
  • How are the numbers of SSAs and police officers per school determined?
  • What weapons, if any, do police officers and SSAs carry in schools (including, but not limited to guns, mace, pepper spray, “stink bombs”)?

Clear written policies that recognize the authority of school principals and define the relationship between school officials and law enforcement personnel, as well as specialized, coordinated training, ongoing evaluation, and a meaningful complaint process are essential and should be adopted. Principal Soguero and School Aide Burgos must be immediately restored to their positions Principal Michael Soguero and School Aide James Burgos should be immediately reassigned to the Bronx Guild High School. Under C-105 of the Chancellor’s Regulations, Paragraph 9(b), “[w]hen warranted by the nature of the arrest,” the Department of Education must direct or recommend that an employee who has been arrested “be removed from contact with children pending a resolution of the arrest.” These arrests do not warrant even the temporary removal of either the principal or the school aide. In short, there have been no allegations that either Mr. Soguero or Mr. Burgos took any action to put any student in danger. To the contrary, the accounts received thus far by the NYCLU indicate that they acted in order to protect a student from an officer who was overstepping his bounds. The nature of the criminal charges against Mr. Soguero and Mr. Burgos does not warrant the continued separation of these educators from a student body they seek to protect and from a school community that wishes desperately for their return. The problem of housing “impact schools” and those not so-designated in the same building When schools are over-policed, education is adversely affected. Methods for ensuring school safety must be appropriately and carefully tailored to each school. SSAs and police officers are supposed to foster a safe learning environment for students, but they can also interfere with the educational process and create an intimidating environment for both students and parents. However necessary their presence may be at “impact” schools, a question that we do not now address, policies and procedures must be in place to ensure that at the same time, the needs of non-impact schools are accounted for and accommodated. Please furnish us with any existing policies governing the housing of impact and non-impact schools together in the same building. If no such policies exist, they should be developed in consultation with appropriate school officials and parents. The NYCLU would like to participate in this process. Parents, students, and school officials indicate that there are regular problems with SSAs and/or school-assigned police officers disrespecting students and overriding the authority of school officials to make decisions regarding the implementation of school policies. School officials are sometimes present at school entrances when problems arise with abusive SSAs and/or school-assigned police officers. When they attempt to protect students from abusive behavior, they frequently find themselves overruled. The Adlai E. Stevenson High School building houses five small schools that have not been designated as “impact” schools, in addition to the much larger Adlai Stevenson High School, which has a high incidence of violence. Because of the physical location of their schools, students at Bronx Guild, Pablo Neruda and the other small schools are subject to the sometimes inappropriate actions of SSAs and police officers who are present to monitor the building. Recently, a SSA verbally abused a Pablo Neruda student who said to her, “You think you’re so tough hiding behind that badge.” The SSA’s response was that she would have no problem taking off her uniform and taking things outside. A school official was present and this time, the situation did not escalate. One morning last November, two Pablo Neruda students arriving late at school with the principal’s knowledge were not permitted to enter the Adlai Stevenson building through the Pablo Neruda entrance. Instead, they were told that they were “criminals” and had to enter the building through the back entrance, which was closed. When the students asked the guards to call their principal to let her know they had arrived at school, the guards refused, stating that they were not secretaries. Although a Pablo Neruda teacher attempted to intervene on the students’ behalf, the guards threatened to write up the students as truants. The students were finally permitted to enter the building two hours after they arrived at school. On another occasion, SSAs refused to let a student into the building for football practice. Parents seeking entry to impact schools have also experienced the heavy hand of SSAs and school-assigned police officers. A parent leader at Bronx Guild reports that, after the buttons of her coat set off a metal detector, instead of being offered the opportunity to take off her coat and put it through the scanner, she was required to lean over a table, feet apart, and was then subjected to a hand held detector being run between her legs. The NYCLU would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss the issues raised in this letter. Sincerely yours, Donna Lieberman Palyn Hung cc: Cassaundra Rainey, President, Bronx Guild School Family Partnership Adolfo Carrión, Jr., Bronx Borough President Laura Rodriguez, Regional Superintendent, Region 2, New York City Department of Education City Council Member Eva S. Moskowitz, Chairperson, Education Committee City Council Members, Education Committee Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. Helen D. Foster Robert Jackson G. Oliver Koppell Andrew J. Lanza John C. Liu Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. Albert Vann David Yassky Bill de Blasio Thomas Doepfner, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, New York City Police Department Michael Best, General Counsel to Chancellor Klein

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