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NYCLU: Cops Overstep Boundaries While Policing City Schools

The NYCLU has called on the Schools Chancellor and Police Commissioner to affirm the right of principals to have clear authority over the schools, when police and security are involved in non-criminal activity. In a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYCLU called for the reinstatement of a principal and school aide who were arrested at the Bronx Guild High School by an NYPD officer whose actions overstepped the principal’s authority. In calling for their reinstatement, the NYCLU also called for a review of written guidelines governing police activity in schools that do not clearly recognize principals’ rights to run their schools.

“We are deeply concerned that existing rules and training do not adequately respect the authority of principals,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “This invites police and safety agents to treat school infractions as criminal offenses.”

The incident in question took place at the non-impact Bronx Guild High School which is housed within impact school Adlai Stevenson High School. On February 3, 2005, a student left her classroom without permission and was being escorted back by a school aide. The student reportedly triggered Officer Juan Gonzalez’ attention by making a loud statement in the hallway, which is against school rules but is not against the law. 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.

Officer Gonzalez barged into the classroom without permission from Principal Michael Soguero in order to arrest the student. In doing so, Officer Juan Gonzalez disrupted the educational process, alarmed students, leading to the arrest of the student, Principal Soguero and School Aide James Burgos while they were trying to do their jobs as educators. The student was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct and spent 2 days in jail and Soguero and Burgos who each spent one day in jail were removed from their positions at the school.

“We are troubled by the removal of the principal and school aide from their positions and seek their prompt return to the Bronx Guild community,” said Palyn Hung, an attorney with the NYCLU. “While New York Education Law clearly establishes principals’ authority over their schools, there are deficiencies and contradictions in governance of the schools in the Chancellor’s Regulations and the NYPD Patrol Guide that must be corrected.”

Even with these discrepancies, it is clear that Officer Gonzalez’s behavior was unauthorized and inappropriate. First, it is not the job of school-assigned police officers to enforce school rules. Second, nothing in the Patrol Guide or Chancellor’s Regulations authorizes school-assigned police officers or SSA’s to enter school classrooms, as Officer Gonzalez did. And third, Officer Gonzalez violated the Patrol Guide and Chancellor’s Regulation by failing to notify or consult with the school principal or other school officials before entering a classroom in order to make an arrest of a student, which ultimately was not even made by Officer Gonzalez, but later by another officer.

The NYCLU letter cited complaints by parents, students, and school officials who indicate that there are regular problems with school-assigned police officers and/or SSA’s disrespecting students and overriding the authority of school officials. Many of these problems arise with housing so-called impact schools with schools not so designated in the same building.

The NYCLU called on Chancellor Klein to provide any existing policies governing the housing of such schools together. If no such policies exist, the NYCLU said they should be developed in consultation with appropriate school officials and parents and the NYCLU would like to participate in this process.

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