New York

City Council bill introduced today aims to clear up school safety confusion

For years, students and activists have complained that lines of authority in school discipline are muddled by the presence of New York Police Department safety agents in schools — and that the confusion can lead to abuses and conflict. As of today, the City Council is considering legislation to improve the school safety situation.

This afternoon, Robert Jackson, chairman of the City Council’s education committee, introduced the Student Safety Act, which would make information about school safety more transparent and accessible, with the goal of clearing up lines of accountability and fostering a positive atmosphere in the city’s schools. More than 100 supporters, from community organizations such as Make the Road New York and the Urban Youth Collaborative, gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning bearing signs that read “Graduation, Not Incarceration” and “Schools not Jails.”

The act, which has already won the support of 24 of the council’s 51 members, would require the DOE and NYPD to report arrests, suspensions, and expulsion data on a quarterly basis, along with a demographic breakdown of the students involved in school incidents. Under the legislation, parents and students would also be able to register grievances against school safety agents with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints against New York City police officers; currently, the board does not review incidents that take place in schools.

“The act will provide a sense of confidence among students that school safety agents will be accountable,” said Jaritza Geigel, a student at Bushwick High School for Social Justice and a Make the Road youth leader.

Without that confidence, students said, school becomes a place for fear, not learning. “People think if they do something wrong, even something little, they’ll get in trouble,” 9th grader Jonathan Jimenez told GothamSchools. Jimenez said his parents transferred him to Catholic school after he was involved in a physical confrontation with the safety agent at his Queens middle school.

The safest school environments are ones where educators, not police officers, make most of the decisions about discipline, speakers emphasized. “School safety agents should follow the lead of academic personnel,” said Nancy Ginsburg, director of the adolescent intervention and diversion team of the Legal Aid Society, which frequently represents young people in criminal and family court after incidents at school, said school discipline should be primarily the job of educators.

And students should not be arrested for minor infractions that are “essentially age-appropriate conduct,” said Damon Hewitt of the NAACP-Legal Defense and Education Fund. “When students misbehave, that is a teachable moment.”

GothamSchools will soon be looking at ways that some educators and experts think schools can make these “teachable moments” in school discipline happen. Stay tuned.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.