The routine of passing through metal detectors and having to remove his belt and glasses is "like airport security" every day for Emanuel Valentin, 16.
One recent morning entering his small school, one of four inside the Bushwick high school campus, security agents searched his bag, confiscating a pencil sharpener because "they said it could be used as a weapon" and his white-out because "it could be used to write graffiti," Valentin said. It was a demoralizing experience.
"The metal detectors aren’t going to help you. Kids can go do things outside," said Valentin, a junior at the New York Harbor School and youth organizer with community group Make the Road New York. They screened three five-minute documentaries on policing in city schools yesterday, made by students from the Urban Youth Collaborative with help from the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Schools with permanent metal detectors have 48 percent more suspensions than those without, and a suspended student is more likely to be held back, drop out, commit a crime or be incarcerated as an adult, according to the films. The policy disproportionately affects black and Latino students, who comprise 82 percent of schools with permanent detectors.
"We should feel comfortable in our schools. That comfort zone isn’t being provided," said Santy Zambrano, 18, who graduated from the Bushwick School of Social Justice (in the same building as the Harbor School) in the spring and has worked with Make the Road for four years.
She recalled when an agent tried to suspend her for trespassing one afternoon after school when she went to meet a friend in the hall. If her dean hadn’t intervened, she could have been suspended for a week to 90 days. "Security guards are trained by cops who work with criminals, but students aren’t criminals," she said.
This month at Manhattan’s Eastside Community High School, agents arrested Isamar Gonzales, 17, for entering school before it opened. They then arrested her principal, Mark Federman, who tried to stop agents from escorting Gonzales out the main entrance in front of other students.
"That community feels really violated and upset," said Chloe Dugger, a field organizer for the NYCLU. Charging students for actions that wouldn’t be considered crimes for adults isn’t helping safety, Dugger said, nor is divesting principals of authority. "There need to be clear policies on when the school safety agents should step in."
In 2004, the federal government spent $60 million to hire police forces for schools and $19.5 million on school safety equipment, according to the Advancement Project.