Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Public Advocate’s Office to Seek Data on DOE’s Random Scanning Program
Last Thursday, January 3, the DOE’s random scanning team appeared on the doorstep of Benjamin Cardozo High School to execute their standard cell phone and iPod seizure program. Regardless whether weapons or dangerous instruments were found, one thing is certain: Cardozo’s attendance rate dropped from 83.9% on January 2 to 73.9% on scanning day. Given Cardozo’s register of 3,907 students, the DOE’s mobile search and seizure program created about 390 extra truants that day, and about 2,350 extra missed academic periods. [This 10% drop matches the 9.7 percentage point drop in attendance at Forest Hills High School when that school was subjected to random scanning on September 11 of this school year, resulting in 326 extra absences beyond the school’s normal rate.]
Amid discussions and questions raised by various parents about Cardozo and the DOE’s random scanning program on the NYC Education News listserv on January 3, the following response was posted:
I am writing you on behalf of the Public Advocate. As you may know, Betsy Gotbaum has long opposed the DOE's policy of turning schools into armed camps. She has also spoken out against the cell phone ban, citing parents' rightful concern for their children's safety. Furthermore, she has serious problems with and has raised objection to the lack of fiscal accountability at the DOE. Parents and taxpayers alike deserve answers to the questions you ask. Our office will be writing to the DOE as you have suggested. When we get a response we will post it here. Tomas Hunt, Office of the Public Advocate
I have since sent a letter to Mr. Hunt that includes the following ten questions, in the hope that the Public Advocate’s Office can secure data and answers from the DOE:
1. What are the dates, school names, and results (number of weapons, other dangerous items, and cellphones, iPods, and other electronics confiscated) from the inception of this program through year-end 2007?
2. For items categorized as weapons or dangerous items, what were those items (that is, were they guns, knives, chains, and brass knuckles or were they scissors, math compasses, laser pointers, and pocket knives)?
3. What was the daily attendance rate at each of these schools for the three school days immediately preceding the random scanning date(s) and/or the school’s Year-to-Date daily attendance rate immediately preceding the scanning?
4. What was the daily attendance rate for the date(s) that random scanning took place?
5. Has the DOE through its responsible school safety office conduct any controlled study of the deterrent effect of random scanning on students carrying weapons or other dangerous items? If so, when, where, how, and what were the results?
6. How many persons in the DOE and/or School Safety are assigned to the random scanning program?
7. How many portable scanners has the DOE purchased for this program, and what was their total cost? What is their annual maintenance cost?
8. What is the annualized cost to operate this program in terms of personnel and equipment expenses for transport, set-up, operation of the equipment, search and confiscation of students’ property, logging and bagging of confiscated items, and disassembling this scanners for removal?
9. What are the costs of additional personnel attached to this program for outside the building security (to keep students from leaving the area or otherwise hiding their property when they see that scanning is taking place)?
10. What are the costs of additional personnel assigned to this program for recordkeeping, reporting, and program administration?
In a final but hardly amusing irony, Mr. Hunt’s email acknowledging receipt of my letter included the following anecdote:
Just last week Betsy [Gotbaum] and I entered a high school where we both were sent through the magnetron and on the other side four school safety agents surrounded Betsy told her to put her hands on a desk and to spread her legs as she was wanded-down. We were there with a principal from the building who was pleading with guards not to do this, but they did it anyway. It can seem like sense and purpose has given way to force and order.