Over the past three years, parents from my organization, the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, have partnered with the NYPD School Safety Division and the Department of Education’s Office of Safety and Youth Development to establish necessary interventions aimed at reducing the high numbers of court summonses, arrests, and suspensions issued in schools in the Bronx.
Recognizing that students of color, particularly African-American students, receive punitive disciplinary action at disproportionate rates, the School Safety Division and Department of Education agreed with parents at my organization that there was a deep need for a more equitable and effective process of responding to infractions in schools. One of the interventions we developed together is the Warning Card Pilot Program.
Recently, there has been misguided criticism of the Warning Card Pilot Program and, more generally, of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempts to reduce punitive school discipline. The criticism takes language on the warning card out of context and makes the false claim that the card excuses harmful behavior.
The warning card is not a get-out-of-jail-free pass; it is a practical strategy that keeps young people in school and allows educators to provide the guidance and support their students need. The Warning Card Pilot enables School Safety Agents working at five different Educational Campuses in the Bronx to replace court summonses with warning cards, which alert students of the harm they have caused with their actions, instruct them to inform their parents, and direct them to guidance interventions. Additionally, students who receive warning cards still face administrative consequences, such as suspensions, for their actions.
Most of the summonses issued in New York City Public Schools are for minor infractions that should be addressed by teachers and administrators, not police. Prior to the Warning Card Pilot, students were receiving summonses, and sometimes even being placed in handcuffs, for failing to take their hats off fast enough, saying the wrong thing, or getting into a fight. A criminal court summons in response to this kind of minor disciplinary infraction is unnecessary and inappropriate.
The young people in our public schools are students, not criminals. When we hand them court summonses, however, we send them the opposite message. A court summons tells a young person: you belong in the prison system, not in school. A warning card tells a young person: you made a mistake and caused harm, but there are people in this school who will support you as you take responsibility for your actions, because you are a critical part of our community.
The Warning Card Pilot is just one of the many important strides that the Mayor’s Office, the NYPD School Safety Division and the Department of Education are taking towards creating a more supportive and safe school environment that is conducive to learning and growth. Despite the false claims of critics, these positive discipline measures are proven to reduce violent incidents in our schools as they work to build strong relationships between all school stakeholders. As a Bronx parent, I strongly support the bold move of the Mayor’s Office, NYPD School Safety Division, and Department of Education to replace punitive discipline and over-policing of schools with common-sense alternatives.