At a town hall in Staten Island, a high school student asked Mayor Bill de Blasio whether he is willing to end criminal consequences for minor offenses in schools. He responded, “Let me be frank. No.”
Criminalizing young people in schools is ineffective and creates alarming racial inequities in discipline. In 2015, the Department of Education ended the policy prohibiting students from taking their phones into schools. In reality, the ban was never evenly applied. Students attending schools without metal detectors had more freedom to take their phones into schools.
Even after the ban was lifted, the central Brooklyn high school where I am a senior has not allowed us to take our phones past the metal detectors. More than 90,000 high school students go through metal detectors every day. The majority of those students are black and Latino. For instance, 48 percent of them are black students but only 14 percent are white.
Early this school year, my peers and I planned a peaceful walkout to protest the different treatment. Before we could walk out, we were met by NYPD officers and school safety agents who threatened arrests and didn’t allow us to protest. The police response was disheartening. I was identified as trying to take part in the protest and brought to a room for questioning by the NYPD. No one called my mother, and officers threatened to charge me with inciting a riot for attempting to participate in the walkout. I received a summons for disorderly conduct and was suspended from school (reduced to two days from an original five-day suspension). Months after the incident, my mother and I went to court in Manhattan for the summons, which was dismissed. Being punished by multiple systems, the courts and school, for the same incident is common.
Nearly all summonses, arrests and NYPD juvenile reports involve black and Latino students. They make up 92 percent of students arrested and 91 percent of summonses. Seventy percent of all criminal consequences in schools are for noncriminal violations and misdemeanors, such as disorderly conduct.
Let me be frank: If the mayor wants to end racial discrimination in school discipline, he must start by ending summonses and arrests for noncriminal violations and misdemeanors.
Isaiah Quiñones is a member of Make the Road New York, a community organization.