Advocates Rally Against Arrests of Minority Students in Public School

 By Sam Levin Thu., Mar. 8 2012 at 5:05 PM


Add this to the list of grievances activists throughout the city have with the New York Police Department.

Protests of the city’s surveillance of Muslims and the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies have reached new heights in recent weeks.

And today, activists are rallying around another policing policy that they say is unfairly targeting minorities and outer borough residents: arresting students in public schools.

Last month, the New York Civil Liberties Union spoke out about new data from the city’s Department of Education that reveals that school discipline practices are disproportionately impacting students of color and students in the Bronx.

Today, a South Bronx parent advocacy group called the New Settlement Parent Action Committee is rallying at 4 p.m. at the steps of the Bronx Borough President’s office with students, teachers, electeds, and other advocates to protest these policies in light of recent data. They are calling on the city’s Dept. of Education to implement alternative practices to suspensions, expulsions, and arrests — which they say unfairly hit minorities and do little to actually solve issues of school safety.

The alarming stats that the organization sent to Runnin’ Scared today come from the Student Safety Act data for the period of October 1st to December 31st of 2011. During that period, there were 279 school-based arrests citywide, which the advocates said equals more than five per day. Of those arrests, 74.9% were male students, and perhaps of greatest concern, 93.5% were black and Hispanic students. Additionally, special education students accounted for 31.4% of the arrests. Only 2.9% of the total were white students.

Advocates also noted that the Bronx has the highest percentage of student arrests, at 23%, and students being issued summons to appear in court at 45.1%.

Runnin’ Scared spoke on the phone this morning with one of the rally organizers to hear about the group’s frustrations with the NYPD and the DOE.

"We really need to highlight what’s going on in the Bronx and the state of criminalizing students," said Julia Allen, lead organizer with the New Settlement Parent Action Committee. "Is arresting students gonna make schools safer? Is suspending students gonna make schools safer? Are metal detectors gonna make schools safer?"

Activists are targeting what they call the "school-to-prison pipeline," which they say pushes students out of schools and directly into the criminal justice system.

Allen said she sees this regularly when she goes with parents to criminal court in the Bronx. "It’s all black and brown students between the ages of 14 and 21 — they are just being funneled into the system," she said.

Her organization is calling on the city to prioritize positive programs and policies that focus on behavior intervention and disciplinary alternatives to the overly punitive measures that are in place today. She cited examples of conflict mediation programs, better training in teacher management, and giving schools and principals more direct oversight in safety matters. The NYPD took over school safety in 1998, but the department is not equipped to handle the challenges of student discipline, she said.

The organization is also rallying around legislation that would give more funding to these kinds of alternative programs as well as anti-handcuffing legislation (to stop things like this from happening). Allen said she would additionally like to the city host an oversight hearing on school-based arrests.

With the NYPD in charge, there is little accountability and transparency, Allen said. "The DOE points its finger at the NYPD and the NYPD points its finger at the DOE. You really can’t find anyone who will answer." (Case in point: Runnin’ Scared reached out to DOE officials this afternoon for response; they referred us to the NYPD’s public information office, who has not yet gotten back to us. We’ll update if we hear back).

This problem is not unique to New York City. This week, national data came out that showed that black students, especially boys, face harsher discipline in public schools.

For this reason, New York City needs to be a leader, Allen said. "[Mayor] Bloomberg really sets a tone. If he changes things here, it could have an…effect in other places."

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told Runnin’ Scared last month that it is inappropriate to talk about the number of arrests without referring to the number of crimes. He wrote in an email at the time, "There were 801 felonies in the schools last year, compared to 1,577 in 2001 before the current administration took office. That 50 percent reduction in serious crime was made through the good work of dedicated School Safety Officers and Police Officers. Schools are kept safe by their ongoing efforts.

School safety is an important issue that parents care about, Allen said. But the department needs policies that are effective and address the larger problems at hand.

"We are interested in what works," she said, "And this is not working."