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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Thousands of Students Arrested by Safety Agents Last Year Raises Parents Concerns

More than a thousand students were arrested by safety agents last school year, and nearly 300 were collared during just the first two months of this academic year, the Daily News has learned.

The arrest statistics were revealed as advocates prepare to testify before the City Council in support of the School Safety Act today, hoping to crack the secrecy that has surrounded school discipline for years.

The act would force the city to regularly release the number of school arrests and suspensions by race.

According to data released to the New York Civil Liberties Union in connection with a lawsuit against the NYPD, there were 1,124 arrests by safety officers last year and 286 in the first two months of this school year.

With a recent rash of school violence – including a Bronx teacher suffering a miscarriage after breaking up a fight – some parents say they have dual concerns: keeping schools safe, while making sure their children don’t face aggressive discipline.

One mom of a Queens high school student said her son, who has heart problems, was arrested last month after safety agents accused him of writing on the bathroom wall. He was thrown to the floor and handcuffed, she noted.

"He was hysterical, crying," said the mom, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her son. "I said to the agents, ‘Why didn’t you call his counselor?’ They said they weren’t aware he had any disabilities."

The charges against the student were later dismissed and he was granted a safety transfer, but the experience traumatized him. The boy had a panic attack in his new school and is now in the hospital being treated for anxiety, his mom said.

Groups like Make the Road New York say many problems stem from the fact that safety agents are trained in street policing, not conflict resolution. They say it’s a problem that there are more school safety agents – 5,200 – than guidance counselors and social workers combined.

"Safety is absolutely essential for kids to learn," said NYCLU director Donna Lieberman, "but we don’t get effective education by turning discipline over to the police."

The president of the safety agents’ union said he hoped the bill would "put to rest the notion that school safety agents abuse children in the schools."

"I don’t think any kind of training will suffice for children who do not behave properly," said Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237.

The Education Department supports the bill and notes that violent crime in the schools has dropped by 39% since 2000.

Some students say they want more peer mediation.

"Sometimes, I feel like they forget that we are not criminals," said Jorel Moore, 17, a 12th-grader at Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn. "We’re still children."