2008-02-01 / Community

NYCLU Demands Passage Of Student Safety Act

The New York Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of advocates has called on the City Council to pass the Student Safety Act, legislation that would provide much-needed transparency and scrutiny to the disciplinary and security policies in New York City public schools.

At a City Council hearing on school suspensions, NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said overpolicing of the schools combined with an over-reliance on harsh disciplinary methods, such as expulsions and extended suspension, disrupts education and pushes many students into the prison system.

"Schools should be pushing our kids into college and good jobs, not prisons," Lieberman said. "In many of our schools, though, discipline has been pulled from the hands of educators and taken over by the NYPD. Behavior problems have turned into criminal matters, and youth of color and children with disabilities are paying the price. It is time to break the school to prison pipeline. The Student Safety Act is an important first step toward this goal."

The Student Safety Act would require quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and NYPD to the City Council on school safety issues, including incidents involving the arrest, expulsion or suspension of students. It would provide the public with raw data to study the impact of disciplinary and security policies and practices, and encourage the crafting of more effective policies.

The act also would extend the jurisdiction of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to include complaints of misconduct levied against school safety agents, NYPD personnel assigned to provide security in the schools. More than 5,000 school safety agents are assigned to the city's schools, but there is currently no meaningful mechanism for parents and students to report safety agent abuse.

This act is supported by organizations such as Advocates for Children, Correctional Association, Make the Road New York, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, New York Civil Liberties Union, Teachers Unite, the Urban Youth Collaborative and Children's Defense Fund - New York.

In her testimony at the council hearing, Lieberman noted that students who have been suspended are three times more likely to drop out of school than students who have never been suspended.

"Dropping out in turn triples the likelihood that a person will be incarcerated later in life," Lieberman said, referencing a 2001 report by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. "By suspending our students en masse, we are pushing more and more young people out of schools and into the streets and even incarceration. And the children impacted by these practices are often the most vulnerable - special ed students and young people of color."

School suspension rates have soared in the city and throughout the country due to an increase in zero tolerance policies and other harsh disciplinary methods.

New York City students are routinely subject to superintendent suspensions, which can range from 10 days to an entire year. Superintendent suspensions increased by 76 percent between 2000 and 2005, jumping from 8,567 to 15,090.

"The DOE's discipline policy shifts the focus of educators from teaching our youth to policing our youth," said Nelson Mar, at attorney with Legal Services for New York City, LSNY - Bronx. "In 2005, New York City suspended more students than the entire student population of New Haven or Camden."

Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children, expressed the need for less punitive behavioral interventions.

"We see students suspended repeatedly without receiving the support they need to turn around their problem behaviors in the classroom," Sweet said.

The Student Safety Act's reporting requirements will help policy makers and the public to fully understand and address the impact of the city's over-reliance on suspensions and expulsions.

"This information will be essential as we attempt to address the educational outcomes of students who are currently lost in the system, either between schools or out of schools," said Udi Ofer, the NYCLU's advocacy director. "Improved access to data and increased scrutiny of our school disciplinary system will only expand the educational opportunities of all of our students."

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