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Queens Community Demands Investigation into Allegations of Student Abuse at Hillcrest High School

Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Irwin & Streiner LLC today called on the NYPD and the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to investigate allegations that police personnel have abused students at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens.

Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Irwin & Streiner LLC today called on the NYPD and the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to investigate allegations that police personnel have abused students at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens.

Students, parents, elected officials, community and legal advocates, and the Student Safety Coalition also called on the City Council to schedule a hearing and pass the Student Safety Act (Intro. 816), legislation that would bring transparency and accountability to NYPD practices in the city’s schools.

DRUM youth leaders, students and parents have been organizing at Hillcrest for a year. Both DRUM and the NYCLU have recently received troubling reports that Hillcrest students have been assaulted and threatened by school safety agents, civilian NYPD employees who patrol the city’s schools. According to the reports, school administrators have been aware of these activities. The allegations include a reference to a space in the dean’s office known as “the strip search room” where students have been physically assaulted by police personnel. The NYCLU has written the NYPD and DOE to request a formal investigation into the allegations.

“If these reports are true, we have an emergency at Hillcrest High School,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “At Hillcrest and across New York City, we need transparency and accountability over what the police are doing in our schools.”

Attorney Victoria Renta Irwin from Irwin & Streiner is representing Rohan Morgan, a 16-year-old Hillcrest student who alleges he was assaulted and beaten by police personnel at the school on several occasions, suffering various injuries including bruises, a lacerated finger and a knee injury that requires surgery. Irwin has filed a notice of claim with the city on Rohan’s behalf regarding an incident in which student safety agents allegedly forcefully restrained him in a room in the dean’s office and severely beat him.

“The mental, emotional and physical trauma endured by Rohan is all the more troubling because it was inflicted by adults assigned to protect him,” Renta Irwin said. “These incidents have robbed Rohan of his dignity and have made going to school a terrifying experience for him.”

Rohan is among several students who report being mistreated by police personnel at the high school. Kumar Heeralall, a recent Hillcrest graduate and DRUM youth member, said a culture of tension and fear exists between many students and school safety agents.

“School safety agents are supposed to make us feel safe, but that’s not what’s happening at Hillcrest,” Heeralall said. “Students need a safe place to report allegations of abuse. The Student Safety Act needs to be passed to give students and our families somewhere to turn when we are abused in our own school.”

DRUM and the Student Safety Coalition called on City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Members Peter Vallone Jr. and Robert Jackson to schedule a hearing this month on this important civil rights legislation.

“Our elected leaders must take immediate action to end the unchecked policing that has created a climate of fear and abuse at Hillcrest High School and schools throughout the city,” said Monami Maulik, executive director of DRUM, a grassroots organization that advocates for the city’s South Asian community. “Our children are afraid to go to school because they fear the adults who are responsible for their well being, which is deeply disturbing. It is time for the City Council to pass the Student Safety Act and begin repairing this broken school safety system.”

The Student Safety Act would require quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and NYPD to the City Council on school safety issues, including incidents involving the arrest, expulsion or suspension of students, and a breakdown of information by students’ race, sex, and disability status. This information could be used to craft more effective student safety policies.

The legislation also would expand the jurisdiction of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to include complaints against school safety agents, who have not had the rigorous training required to work in a school environment, yet patrol the schools and have the power to frisk, search and arrest students.

Few students, parents and educators know of how to file a misconduct complaint against school safety agents. Yet even without a publicized mechanism for reporting abuse, Commissioner Ray Kelly has reported that the NYPD received more than 2,700 complaints from 2002-2007 about police misconduct in schools.

The Student Safety Act, sponsored by 26 council members, was introduced in August into the Education and Public Safety Committees. Though a majority of City Council members support it, no hearing date has been set and there has not been a vote on this important civil rights legislation.

Since school safety was transferred from the Department of Education to the NYPD in 1998, more than 5,000 school safety agents and at least 200 armed police officers have been assigned to the city’s public schools. The excessive police presence coupled with the general prison-like environment – everyday, more than 93,000 New York City school children pass through a gauntlet of metal detectors, bag searches and pat downs – damages children’s education. Minor disciplinary infractions often are treated like criminal behavior, which forces children from the classroom and into the criminal justice system. For example, police personnel routinely violate New York State law by arresting young children in public schools for minor violations that do not even rise to the level of misdemeanors or felonies.

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