En Español Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

School Safety Debate Hits a Nerve – And Demands Action

My recent
column calling for a review of the purpose, tactics and behavior of the 5,000
NYPD personnel posted in New York City
public schools drew a ton of letters.

Educators,
cops and parents all wanted to weigh in, which is great. Our city is long
overdue for a sensible conversation about the right way to create a safe
learning environment for our kids.

What we
have right now is a system nobody really likes – thus 2,700 complaints the NYPD
received about school agents between 2002 and 2007 and a slew of high-profile
lawsuits from the parents claiming their children were wrongfully handcuffed,
strip-searched and/or beaten.

"Schools
are out of control and no one really seems to have an idea on how to get
control back," writes Kwesi Ndzibah, a teacher and former school safety
agent. "I don’t have an answer that will satisfy even a few critics."

Tom
Mullen, a former deputy chief in the NYPD, says, "The teachers fear the
students and any retribution should they try and initiate discipline. It’s a
sad, sad situation."

Along with
the thoughtful responses came rage against children.

"Most
of these ‘kids’ are out of control animals with no regard for order, authority,
discipline, and have no concept of the word ‘respect.’ They are violent, angry
and racist," writes John Budek.

People
like Budek, in my opinion, are responsible for the jail-like conditions in many
schools – the magnetometers, hundreds of armed officers and limited
accountability to the public.

I don’t
doubt that there are some deeply troubled students out there. One safety
officer assigned to Brooklyn wrote to me about
two arrests nobody could argue with: a 13-year-old boy who brought a loaded handgun
to school and a 12-year-old girl carrying a 9-inch knife because she was sick
of being teased.

But we’ve
lost all sense of proportion when 5-year-olds are being handcuffed and a
13-year-old gets arrested for scratching the word "OK" on a desk.

I agree
with conservative writer Philip Howard, who blames fear of lawsuits for a
welter of rules that tie the hands of adults in school.

"Taking
hold of a child’s arm is verboten – touching is taboo, except to prevent harm
to others. So a 5-year-old ends up in handcuffs," he wrote in a recent
article in the Daily Beast.

Very true.
All too often, fear of lawsuits trumps common sense and centuries of
child-rearing experience. The result is a system that does damage to children
and leaves teachers – and school cops – demoralized.

"My
beef is that the people who are supposed to have answers definitely don’t, and
we are left with the NYPD attempting to figure out what to do," says
Ndzibah, the teacher.

"There
needs to be policing courses in schools for agents, the same as policing in the
community," one school cop wrote anonymously. "Agents would be more
in tune [with the] needs of certain children."

Unfortunately,
as columnist Nat Hentoff telephoned to remind me, the proper forum for the
needed discussion – the New York City Council – has been AWOL.

A majority
of Council members have sponsored a bill called the **School Safety Act, which would require regular
reporting on student arrests and other safety measures and allow the Civilian
Complaint Review Board to investigate alleged abuse by school cops.

 

That would
educate everyone about the extent of crime in the schools – which the
Department of Education says has been going down in recent years – and let the
city make an informed judgment about whether NYPD actions are doing more harm
than good.

The bill
has been kicking around the Council for months, but there hasn’t been a single
hearing. Council Speaker Christine Quinn should end the stonewalling and get
the conversation started. Our kids deserve no less.

**Make the Road New York is a member the coalition that has
been advocating for the School Safety Act.