Monday, June 8, 2020
Why School Safety Agents should return to the supervision of principals for the safety of students and staff by Matt Bromme
Matt Bromme is a former principal and Superintendent of District 27 in Queens.
When I first became a school Principal at P.S. 88 in District 24 , School Safety Agents were employees of the New York City Board of Education. They reported to the Principal or his designee. The School Safety Agents would meet with the Principal, discuss their assignment, the time they would take lunch and their break. This was especially true in the elementary schools where there was only one School Safety Agent usually assigned to the building.
Then when I became a Middle School Principal at MS 210 in District 27, I had multiple School Safety Agents assigned to my building because of prior incidents,. They were still employed by the Board of Education and so the rules of engagement were still the same. We worked out schedules and assignments together.
I was still Principal of MS 210 when Rudy Giuliani was elected Mayor. He pushed for the School Safety Agents to become part of the NYPD. As a union representative of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, I opposed that move.
Due to political pressure on Chancellor Rudy Crew and Deputy Harry Spence, the Central Board of Education agreed and in late 1998, the School Safety Agents were overnight assigned to the NYPD and became civilian NYPD employees. The New York City Charter was also amended to require reporting of crimes by school employees to the NYPD. The Mayor kept feeding the tabloids with any and all stories of how the NYPD would improve safety in the schools and how weak we Principals were on discipline. He had already forced Ray Cortines out as Chancellor, and in a short time he would do the same to Rudy Crew.
I had some really great SSA officers. However, I was also assigned some that I could not trust. To get them moved, I had to deal with the local precinct that had no loyalty to my school.
The transfer of SSA to the NYPD also changed their roles in the school dramatically. They now were reporting to a Precinct Lieutenant or Sergeant. They no longer would leave their post which was assigned by their Sergeant, so there was no crossing of streets to stop incidents from occurring. The patrol, break and lunch schedules were no longer discussed with the Principal. They made the final decision regarding arrests and whether or not an emotionally challenged student would be put into handcuffs, even if the professionals believed he/she should go to the hospital instead. Another issue was that there was no one responsible for their training in developing relationships with students, parents and staff.
I will give you an example: I had a student try to commit suicide. He was going to jump out of the fourth floor window. We stopped him, but because he was so agitated, he struck one of the officers. I had to argue for sending him to the hospital instead of arresting him for assault.
Second example: When I supervised my SSA, and there was a fight among students across the street, when I crossed the street, they crossed with me. Once they were placed under NYPD, SSAs could not move from their predetermined post unless this was agreed to by a Lieutenant who never visited the school. So if there was a fight outside the school building or school yard, I and my staff were on our own. It made the situation far more dangerous.
Although I believe there are many schools where the School Safety Agents work professionally with the students, parents and staff, I will always insist that the Principal, based on input from everyone, should be the decision maker on how to address student discipline and safety issues in the school. At the end of the day, the Principal is responsible for everyone in the building. Therefore, he or she should have the ability to supervise, train and schedule School Safety Agents, for the safety of students and staff.