CITY HALL Officials worried that factors like race play a role in which students get suspended have proposed new legislation that would force public schools to report the race, ethnicity, gender and more of suspended students.
The legislation,** which is set to be voted on next week, would also force schools to provide the same information on arrests and summonses issued by NYPD student safety officers. Data would be broken down by race, ethnicity, gender, student age, grade, as well as ESL enrollment and special education status.
"There are still too many situations reported by students, parents and advocates in which students are harassed or threatened in school, often by the people who are supposed to protect them," said Upper Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson, who heads the Councils Education Committee and sponsored the bill.
At a City Council hearing Thursday, Jackson cited several incidents in which students had been arrested for minor infractions, such as writing on desks. He said that harsh punishments often breed tension between students and school officials, putting students at risk.
The discussion came a week after a riot broke out at Lower Manhattans Murry Bergtraum High School, sparked by a principals decision to bar students from using school bathrooms following a fight. The principal had also threatened that anyone caught fighting would be arrested and anyone who was late to class would be suspended, students said.
Some have since blamed the uprising on a new principals punitive approach to running the school.
Both NYPD and Department of Education officials expressed their support for the legislation at the Council hearing and pointed to statistics showing that violence is school has been in decline.
"We all agree that our goal is to provide the highest level of safety and security for students and school personnel," said Assistant Chief Thomas Chan, Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s School Safety Division.
He described the measure as a "reasonable mechanism" for providing the Council with information about police activity in city schools.
The NYPD currently oversees 5,129 school safety agents, Chan said. That’s seven times as many guidance counselors as work in city schools, noted New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman.
Before the hearing, dozens of students rallied on City Hall steps to voice their support of the legislation.
West Harlems Monerul Islam, 15, who attends the Business of Sports School, a charter school in Hells Kitchen, said he hoped the new rules will help make security guards and police officers at his school more understanding.
"I dont like how security guards are treating students. They act really, really rough for no reason," he complained.
He said that last year, students were suspended for one or two days if they arrived late three or four times a week, which he felt was "unnecessary."
Brooklyns Justin Soto, 19, agreed, saying that sometimes students feel the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
"People get suspended for the stupidest reason," he said, adding that classmates had been suspended for wearing hats to school or forgetting to take their iPods out of their book bags.
He said that perceptions of too-harsh punishments sour relationships between students and schools staff and discourage students from coming to school.
"We shouldnt have to leave our rights at the front door when we walk into school," agreed Nazifa Mahbub, 17, a student organizer from Queens.
The bill is expected to be voted on at the Council’s next and final meeting of the year on Dec. 20.
**Student Safety Act spearheaded by Make the Road New York (MRNY) and allies.