Saturday, April 5, 2008

School Safety

Guest Editorial by
Sally Lee
Executive Director
Teachers Unite
April 4, 2008

School safety is largely sold to the public as the need to guard teachers from students, or sometimes the “good kids” from the other ones. Regardless of rationale, it is hard to imagine educators, students and parents demanding that the presence of poorly trained police, who are held accountable to seemingly nobody, is the best strategy for creating safe learning environments. Teachers know that the key to fostering a violence-free school is embracing the input of all youth and parents, who—if given the choice—would undoubtedly choose proactive solutions such as: small class sizes for all, rich after-school programs, innovative peer mediation initiatives, and increased support services for children with complex learning and emotional needs.

Unfortunately, New York City, like school districts across the country, continues to resist this proven model. In January, school safety agents handcuffed Denis Rivera, a 5-year-old special education student, for acting out in his kindergarten class. In October, East Side High School principal Mark Federman was arrested by school safety agents after he asked them not to humiliate a student in front of her classmates and teachers. What possible reasons are there for the virtual silence from our city government in response? The stalled Student Safety Act would require quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and NYPD to the City Council on school safety issues, including incidents involving the arrest, expulsion or suspension of students. It would provide the public with raw data to study the impact of disciplinary and security policies and practices, and encourage the crafting of more effective policies.

The act also would extend the jurisdiction of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to include complaints of misconduct levied against school safety agents, NYPD personnel assigned to provide security in the schools. More than 5,000 school safety agents are assigned to the city's schools, but there is currently no meaningful mechanism for parents and students to report safety agent abuse. The city council is in the privileged position to bring transparency and accountability to New York City school safety.

Educators often feel powerless to expose the violent dynamics between school security and students when they know blame will fall back on the staff and students in their school rather than the system that is culpable. The teachers I speak with come from the range of school situations across the city. They all name the same source causing the problems in their schools: a climate of hostility that flows directly from the top of the Department of Education to their students. The tone of this administration can be seen in recent budget cuts, ludicrous testing and evaluation methods, and biased hiring policies that favor white recent college graduates and generally penalize experienced educators. This climate is often demonstrated by an individual school’s inconsistent approach to discipline, a useless practice of punitive and ultimately damaging suspensions, and underpaid school safety agents who sometimes harass and intimidate students.

Meanwhile, there are public schools that should be studied and celebrated citywide for their success in fostering cultures where trust and respect reign. The Julia Richman Education Complex, which harmoniously houses four high schools, a middle school and an elementary school, has been cited by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative as a model in school safety that respects and honors the lives of students and staff. Mayor Bloomberg has rewarded their achievements by arranging a deal with Hunter College to buy the building and kick the schools to a largely inaccessible corner of Manhattan.

It is time for the bare bones of a reasonable safety policy to be put into place. The city should invest in the investigation of innovative and educationally-sound strategies that foster school cultures and trust among students, and it must put accountability measures into place for the police and para-police force roaming our public schools in the name of safety for all.

1 comment:

Dale Yeager SERAPH said...


Without a compete assessment an effective plan cannot be designed. Most districts have had safety assessments conducted by local people or companies. The problem is that these assessments are superficial and general ineffective for planning purposes or problems solving.
Most of the security assessments that have been performed in U.S. schools have focused either on security hardware [cameras, locks, etc.] or exterior crime prevention. Since school safety is primarily about the management of a school environment and the people in it, an accurate assessment of safety must include analysis of the management systems in place on a daily basis that affect daily security issues.
The following is a list of what a proper school security audit should include:

• Each audit / assessment must be custom designed to the school facility structure and personality. For example California style [one floor, flat or shallow roof] buildings present different security problems than a school facility that have multiple floors. Socio-economic aspects of the community and the surrounding area also set the personality of a school.
• A complete audit must also include interviews with key community people regarding juvenile crime and social problems related to children.
• The audit must seek out key personnel within each school for extensive interviews. These key personnel provide much of the relevant usable information for the audit.
• An audit of sub social groups must also be conducted.
• An audit of management structure related to security is also vital in a proper audit.
• An audit of the relationship and communication between staff and students must be properly conducted.
• Student movement and classroom management must be audited.
• An audit of disciplinary issues must be conducted.
• Finally, the audit must provide specific issues with specific solutions must be designed for each school facility.