In December, 17-year-old Porsha Newman, a student at Queens’ Information and Technology High School spent three weeks in Rikers when she refused to close her book in class.
In October, Mark Federman, principal of Manhattan’s East Side Community High School, was arrested by school safety agents after he asked them not to humiliate a student in front of her classmates and teachers. Fortunately, charges against this respected principal were recently dropped.
Though we know these problems are systemic, we only hear about specific incidents when they erupt in newspaper headlines, The Student Safety Coalition, a coalition of advocacy, academic and community based organizations, is working for the passage of the Student Safety Act, which would require quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and NYPD to the City Council on safety issues, including incidents involving the arrest, expulsion or suspension of students. It would provide the public with data to study the impact of current disciplinary and security practices, and encourage the crafting of more effective procedures.
The act also would extend the jurisdiction of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate complaints of misconduct levied against school safety agents, who are police department personnel assigned to provide security in the schools. More than 5,000 school safety agents are assigned to the city’s schools, but there is currently no meaningful mechanism for students and their families to report incidents of serious misconduct.
In March, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) urged the United States to take action to end the School to Prison Pipeline, the policies and practices that funnel children of color out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
The committee recommended that our government “encourage school districts to review their ‘zero tolerance’ discipline policies, with a view to limiting the imposition of suspension or expulsion to the most serious cases of school misconduct, and to provide training opportunities for police officers deployed to patrol school hallways.”
Here in New York City, there is a clear need for such reform given the overwhelming police presence in many of our schools, as well as the use of overly harsh discipline methods that lead thousands of students each year to be suspended, drop out, and end up in the prison system.
The City Council must take this opportunity to take the first step in ending the School to Prison Pipeline by passing the Student Safety Act. For more information on joining this campaign, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
New York City, the home of the UN, should be a model for the rest of the world to follow, not a global embarrassment. Our children deserve better.
Coordinator, School to Prison Pipeline Project
New York Civil Liberties Union