Tag Archives: School Safety Officers

Can We De-Police Schools and Assure Safety for Students and Staff?

A world turned right side up … the grandchildren of the civil rights demonstrators of the sixties seized the day, injustices centuries old bubbled and erupted, maybe our quiescent world is changing.

In New York State a number of police accountability and transparency concepts rapidly passed the legislature, signed by the governor and became law.

Cries of “defund the police” were heard across the nation, n some school districts zero tolerance and armed police are commonplace in schools.

The sharp criticism of the police is not new; the Black Lives Matter in Schools movement has been calling for “counselors not cops,’ as part of their platform.

School policing is looked upon as repression,

School policing is inextricably linked to this country’s long history of oppressing and criminalizing Black and Brown people and represents a belief that people of color need to be controlled and intimidated. Historically, school police have acted as agents of the state to suppress student organizing and movement building, and to maintain the status quo. Local, state and federal government agencies, designed to protect dominant White power institutions, made the intentional decision to police schools in order to exercise control of growing power in Black and Brown social movements

 In New York City the de Blasio administration removed police from schools and ended the position of Youth Officer in precincts. If there is a situation requiring police principals are instructed to call 911, no longer any special treatment.

School suspensions have been dramatically reduced as well as the length of suspensions.

The reaction to accusations of over-policing has been calls for sharp reductions in police budgets, and, in New York City the elimination of scanning and the movement of the supervision of School Safety Officers from the police back to the Department of Education. (See NYU Metro Center blog)

During this moment of nation-wide opposition to police killings of Black men and women, we should consider ending two longstanding NYC public school security policies–the NYPD’s control of the city’s School Security Agents, and the imposition of metal detectors in selected city schools.

  Kathleen Nolan, Police in the Hallways, (2012) spent a year in a high school in the Bronx and paints a dreary picture of a school oppressed by a “culture of control,” leading to frequent summonses and arrests,

         Although a variety of policies and practices were part of the culture of control inside xxHS, the most central was the systematic use of order-maintenance-style policing. This included law-enforcement officials’ patrolling of the hallways, the use of criminal-procedural-level strategies, and the pervasive threats of summonses and arrest

Will the removal of scanning improve the quality of life for students?

In the midst of the pandemic we see states opening their economies in spite of spiking numbers of infections: a triage, weighing increasing fatalities against the wishes of voters and the revival of the state economy.

Is the removal of scanning the equivalent?

In early 1990’s the Board of Education decided to place scanners in twenty schools. The principal of one of the schools, Thomas Jefferson High School, objected vociferously, her students must not be treated as criminals. The Board relented and Jefferson was removed from the scanning list. A year later a student was fatally shot in the school.

I blogged about the incident here, take a few minutes and read, one of my better efforts.

What is lacking is asking students and staff: do they feel safe in schools?  Have the de Blasio reforms made schools safer?

Max Eden uses student and teacher school climate surveys, an annual collection of data by the Department of Education, over 80% of students and staff complete the surveys; in “School Discipline Reform and Disorder Evidence from New York City Public Schools”    2012 –2016 (March, 2017) Eden challenges the impact of the reforms and concludes,

 … [schools] where an overwhelming majority of students are not white saw huge deteriorations in climate during the de Blasio reform. This suggests that de Blasio’s discipline reform had a significant disparate impact by race, harming minority students the most.

How do we reconcile the positions of advocates, both inside and outside of schools with the data reflecting the views of large percentages of students/staff inside of schools?

UPDATE: How do students feel about the impact of School Safety Officers in schools? See article from Chalkbeat  here.

To add to the complexity, the de-policing of schools advocates and electeds (many running for office next year) demanded that SSO supervision be removed from the police department and moved back to the schools, to the principals.

The Police Commissioner immediately agreed, the move would remove $300 million from his budget without the loss of a single police officer.

The Speaker of the City Council, Corey Johnson agreed with the concept, without speaking to the union leader, who unleashed a scathing attack calling Johnson a racist

There are 5,000 SSO’s, 90% are of color, 70% are women, many live in the neighborhoods of the schools in which they work, and many have worked in the schools for many years.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew was aghast, as the Department is struggling to maintain services, struggling to create a school opening scenario, struggling to prevent a wave of layoffs, ” … this is not the time to consider dramatic and possibly disruptive changes in school security.”  The SSO’s are currently being used to hand out masks, to work in the feeding centers, working in communities,  distributing informational materials and answering community questions.

The weekly “Stated Meeting” of the City Council was held today, and, the question of “defund the police” was defined as transferring dollars from the police budget to fund “safety net” programs in the most CIVID impacted communities, Council Speaker Johnson made it clear that Mayor de Blasio has resisted.

The budget must be agreed upon by the Mayor and the Council by June 30th, if the Mayor and the City Council fail to agree on a budget a Financial Control Board can replace the Mayor and the Council in making financial determinations and the Governor would no qualms about becoming the “de facto” mayor.