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NYCLU Files Lawsuit On Behalf Of Arrested Teachers; Action Challenges Overpolicing In NYC Schools

The New York Civil Liberties Union and co-counsel Morrison & Foerster LLP filed suit Friday on behalf of two 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.

The NYCLU is seeking to vindicate the constitutional rights of the teachers, who were wrongfully arrested, and is urging the NYPD and the City Department of Education to develop adequate protocols governing the role of police officers in schools.

“When school officials call the police onto their campuses, they should be able to expect that the police will respond lawfully and will treat students and staff with respect,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “Except in an emergency where health and safety are in imminent danger, the police must be instructed to respect the authority of school officials.”

The suit seeks reforms in NYPD training and policies on the relationship between school officials and members of the NYPD. The plaintiffs are also requesting unspecified damages, a declaration that their rights were violated, and the return and expungement of all records reflecting their arrests and detention.

Law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP is co-counsel with the NYCLU in the action, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

NYPD officers arrested teachers Quinn Kronen and Cara Wolfson-Kronen at the New School for Arts and Sciences, where they teach, in March 2005. Ms. Wolfson-Kronen, a social studies teacher, had called 911 for medical assistance for a student who had been injured during a fight in a school bathroom. The police arrived in Mr. Kronen’s classroom after school personnel had already broken up the fight and separated the students, and Mr. Kronen, an English teacher, questioned the officers’ decision to handcuff some of the students who had been fighting.

In response, the officers yelled at Mr. Kronen and ordered him to be quiet. When Ms. Wolfson-Kronen objected, they handcuffed and arrested her, made her wait handcuffed in the hall in front of her students, and then forced her to wait outside the building, where the temperature was subfreezing. The police then arrested Mr. Kronen as well, and both teachers were held at the 41st precinct in the Bronx for nearly two hours before being released with summonses for disorderly conduct. The charges against both teachers were dismissed at arraignment for facial insufficiency.

The NYCLU is bringing the teachers’ case at a time when heavy-handed policing has caused significant disruption at schools all over New York City. Aurelia L. Curtis, principal of Curtis High School in Staten Island, was removed from her position in December after police claimed that she had been insubstantially deferential to their authority as she dealt with two student disciplinary issues. Curtis’s removal drew protests from parents, students, and the teachers’ union; she has since been reinstated. In a similar case, a popular principal and aide were arrested and removed from their positions at the Bronx Guild High School for over two months last year after objecting to the questionable arrest of a student in a classroom at the school.

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