Student Safety Act Passes City Council

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A metal detector at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx.

Photo by: Eileen Markey

A metal detector at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx.

The City Council voted Monday to approve the Student Safety Act, which mandates detailed reporting of suspensions, arrests and other school-discipline matters.

First introduced in 2008, and re-visited by the Council in 2009, the current version of the bill was introduced in September 2010, with the support of Speaker Christine Quinn and the leadership of the three sponsoring committees, for Education, Public Safety and Juvenile Justice.

Among other goals, the Act aims to clarify what’s long been a murky reporting relationship between NYPD and DOE, as safety officers are officially hired by NYPD but theoretically under DOE supervision by school principals. Too often, advocates say, disciplinary matters best handled by school officials instead become matters for school safety officers, escalating conflicts and, by responding in extremis, criminalizing behavior that may not, in fact, be breaking the law.

The more detailed reporting outlined in the Student Safety Act will permit knowledge of patterns of discipline, arrest, and detention in the city’s schoolspatterns that, advocates charge, too often reflect racial bias, as schools with permanent metal detectors, more significant police presence and greater numbers of reported incidents tend to serve communities that are largely black, Hispanic and poor. Students who require special-education services and those who are not yet fluent in English also experience a greater portion of disciplinary actions.

The Act additionally mandates reporting on school suspensions and expulsions, tracking school-level practices and breaking down data by age, grade level, race, gender and education status (special education or English language learner) to help draw a more nuanced portrait of disciplinary actions in the schools.

“This is a victory for all New York City students,” declared Nazifa Mahbub, a 17-year-old senior at Long Island City High School and a youth-organizer with Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), at a City Hall rally on Thursday. “Young people have been pushed out instead of getting support for our futures. We will finally find out what is happening in our schools.”

Police in the Schools Since ‘98

A 1998 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between then-Mayor Giuliani and the Board of Education first permitted police officers and NYPD safety agents to provide law enforcement in the city’s schools, on the understanding that the City would not raise the number of safety officers from 1998 levels. The MOU was renewed in 2003 by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, despite

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