The plan to shift oversight of School Safety Agents from the Police Department to the Department of Education is on schedule—but hasn’t included any engagement with the union that represents the employees.
The City Council is weighing a series of bills that would transform the role of School Safety Agents. If passed, they would bar School Safety Agents from being able to arrest students or use handcuffs, and would mandate that staff be retrained in restorative justice and de-escalation practices. The proposals would also require the DOE to report the number of complaints made against SSAs and call for Principals to evaluate their job performance.
Triggered by Floyd Case
The bills expand on the Council’s two-year plan to remove police from schools, which was enacted last summer following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and outrage from advocacy groups about the disproportionate number of black and Latino students who were arrested or received summonses in city schools.
DOE officials assured members of the Council Education Committee during a Feb. 18 hearing that the department would be ready to fully shift control of more than 5,000 School Safety Agents by June 2022.
But despite the impact these reforms would have on their members, leadership from both Teamsters Local 237, which represents the Agents, and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators testified that they had not been consulted in this process.
Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, who has staunchly opposed the transfer of jurisdiction, stated that the Council’s bills were full of “misinformation.” One proposal calls for School Safety Agents to no longer carry weapons, despite the fact that they were already unarmed.
Mr. Floyd argued that removing the Safety Agents from the NYPD would leave students vulnerable.
Cites Weapons Seizures
“On the first day of school in 2018, School Safety Agents confiscated nine knives, four box-cutters, three razors, a pick for stabbing and evacuated two schools that received bomb threats,” he said. “Parents beware: your children are not safe. And they will be even less safe if the City Council’s proposed legislation goes through.”
Although CSA First Vice President Rosemarie Sinclair affirmed that CSA was committed to making the transition successful, that union had many questions and concerns about the current plans, including what role Principals would have in the hiring, supervision and evaluation of School Safety Agents, whether schools would maintain a working relationship with the NYPD and who would be responsible for training them.
She also pointed out that oversight of School Safety Agents was transferred from the Board of Education to the NYPD in 1998 because school officials had proved incapable of managing the unit.
“What gives us any reason to believe the DOE is better positioned to take on this responsibility today?” Ms. Sinclair asked.
Students testified that they felt criminalized by the Agents, as well as by metal detectors. Many advocate groups, including the Urban Youth Collaborative, argued that the reforms did not go far enough and called for School Safety Agents to be removed.
Don't Rush the 'Reforms'?
Instead of rushing these bills, Council Member Brad Lander said, “we should work with these young people, advocates and stakeholders on a genuine approach for safe and supportive schools free of police.”
But some of the Council Members indicated that they were not on board with transferring the Safety Agents. Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who chairs the Civil Service and Labor Committee, noted that many communities have positive experiences with the Agents in their schools. He also emphasized that School Safety Agents were predominantly women—about 70 percent—and overwhelmingly women of color.
“These women, oftentimes, are the pawn of the defund police [movement]. The very people we’re looking to support—our children, our black and brown single mothers—are the ones that are going to be impacted most,” he argued, calling for the DOE to invest in professional development for SSAs.
Council Member Robert Holden, who taught at the City University of New York for more than 40 years, recalled experiencing a school shooting on campus and believed that safety should be the main priority driving these changes. He also said he was “struck” by how “professional-yet-loving” the Safety Agents were.
'They're Human Beings'
“I’m not seeing some of the same things my colleagues are seeing, like ‘Oh, they’re NYPD.’ No, they’re human beings,” Mr. Holden said.
One point of contention during the hearing was news that the NYPD planned to add 475 School Safety Agents despite a hiring freeze, although the department clarified that the decision had not yet officially been approved.
Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Education Committee, called the potential hirings “unacceptable” when many schools were short-staffed due to blended-learning and needed staff such as Special-Education Teachers. Kenyatte Reid, the Executive Director of the DOE’s Office of Safety and Youth Development, noted that the department was having trouble back-filling Restorative Justice Coordinator positions.
“It is outrageous that they…did not invest the resources where our kids need them most. Our priorities are out of whack right now,” Mr. Treyger said.
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