While city schools might have been in mid-winter recess, many students were still busy, and making ample use of their downtime.
Approximately 50 students from across the city, including northern Manhattan and the Bronx, rallied together at One Police Plaza this past Wed., Feb. 22nd to demand that the New York Police Department (NYPD) stay out of their schools.
"Children are being sent to the precinct instead of the principal's office," said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman, who spoke at the protest rally together with the students, New York City Councilmembers Daniel Dromm and Robert Jackson, who also serves as Chair of the Education Committee.
NYPD's own figures, based on data from October 1 to December 30 in 2011, showed that 279 students were arrested in that interval, approximately five students a day over the course of 55 days of instruction. In addition, 532 students were issued summons.
Almost 94% of the students arrested were black or Latino, and 75% were young male students.
Most of the arrests were for misdemeanors.
"I am an immigrant, and in my school, most students are black or Latinos. Every day, we are treated like we are criminals," said18-year-old Nadia Ouedraogo, who spoke out at One Police Plaza. "We have cops everywhere, not security guards, real cops, every single day."
Ouedraogo attends Bronx International High School on Boston Road, and said she was frustrated by the negative environment fostered by what she termed an excessive police presence – and intervention.
"I feel like this is happening because we are located in the Bronx," insisted Ouedraogo. "Police officers automatically think that we are criminals, but we are not."
Councilmember Jackson of northern Manhattan said that the statistical information provided by the NYPD regarding the city's was staggering.
"As the Chair of the Education Committee and as a parent I had to be here; this was a must," said Councilmember Jackson, who pointed up the need for a change of culture for the city's 1.3 million schoolchildren. "We need to make recommendations to the NYPD in order to bring about the change. We need to be able to decrease these numbers."
The students who assembled said they were tired of what they said qualified as harassment by the police officers housed at the schools they attended, and many held up make-shift jailbar cells in silent protest.
17-year-old Cadijah Hyacinth said she was tired of being reminded of what a jail is like every morning.
When she shows up for school, she has to get patted down, take off her sneakers, go through a metal detector, and many times, empty out her book bag.
"I feel like I'm not supposed to be going to school; I feel like I'm learning to go to prison, it's not an encouraging environment to learn in," said Hyacinth.
"There are cameras everywhere; the metal detector process sometimes takes up to an hour and 9 times out of 10 students are not carrying weapons," added Hyacinth, who attends Humanities High School in lower Manhattan.
Councilmember Dromm, who was a public school teacher before being elected to represent Jackson Heights, was also critical of the NYPD's school search tactics, claiming they were often unnecessary, and time-consuming, causing the students to arrive late for class.
"I know firsthand the impact that this type of policing has on students, has on their motivation, on participation, on the feelings that they have about school," said Councilmember Dromm. "It permeates the entire school environment so students feel like they are going to a jail everyday. [It] should be a supportive and nursing environment rather than a policing environment."
Students present spoke to alternative methods of managing disruptions or potential disputes at school.
"Schools should try peer mentoring or a social worker or more instructive ways of controlling students," said Ouedraogo, who has served as a peer mediator at her school for the past year.
"When our schools treat kids like criminal suspects the minute that they come in the door, they alienate [and] undermine them, and they put them on the road to educational failure instead of the path to our future and to our success," said Lieberman.
"We don't want to be treated like animals or criminals," said Oeudraogo. "We want to be treated like teenagers, students, real people."