The budget decision to remove School Safety Agents from the Police Department’s control and under eventually move under the authority of the Department of Education sparked criticism from both advocates who called for reforms to school safety and the union that represents the Agents.
During the weeks following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters pushed for a complete overhaul to school safety, calling on the City Council and Mayor de Blasio to remove police from schools. The NYPD has had control of School Safety Agents since 1998, but as part of the $88.1-billion budget announced June 30, that function will be overseen by school administrators as part of a multi-year plan, the Mayor announced.
“What's important to understand here is in the first year of the transition there will be a growing leadership function played by school leadership. Officers will be trained by the DOE,” he said during a press conference. “There'll be a heavy focus on restorative-justice, socio-emotional learning, deeper dialogue with young people. So, there's going to be a lot of change of approach in the first year and then the full transition during the second year.”
Since the beginning of the de Blasio administration, the DOE has moved away from harsh punishments such as suspensions and made it harder to suspend students for long periods.
Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd, who has noted that when the school system previously oversaw the safety officers during the 1990s, screening was poor—with pedophiles and gang members often winding up with jobs—and training was shoddy, said the Council had submitted to "mob rule" in pushing for the shift in jurisdiction.
But changing the role of school-safety staff did not go far enough for many of the advocates.
'Want Police-Free Schools'
“We want police-free schools, not simply transferring who supervises the 5,000 school officers from the NYPD to the DOE,” said Natasha Capers, director of the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has repeatedly called for more counselors at schools.
Just 20 percent of in-school arrests were conducted by School Safety Agents; the rest were carried out by non-school members of the NYPD, according to a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Amberliz Linares, a student at the Brooklyn School for Social Justice and member of the Urban Youth Collaborative, charged that the city was “shuffling budget lines and claiming to deliver police reform.”
“We are suspended and arrested at higher rates than white students. We are stopped and searched in the hallways between classes because of the color of our skin.”
Although about a quarter of public-school students were black, they made up about 45 percent of the students who were suspended during the 2018-2019 school year, according to data from the city.
“We've been clear since day one: we want police out of our schools,” Ms. Linares said.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams attempted to short-circuit the budget by threatening to block the city from collecting property taxes unless school safety was overhauled and an NYPD hiring freeze was implemented.
A spokeswoman for the Mayor disputed the legality of that threat, stating that the budget was “effective as soon as the Council passes it.”
Mr. Floyd, who represents the Agents, voiced opposition to transferring them out of the NYPD when DOE staff members pushed for the change in a letter to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza last month. He argued that the reason school safety was transferred from the DOE to the NYPD during the Giuliani administration was because the DOE did a poor job managing them, particularly because it lacked an adequate investigatory unit to perform background checks on prospective Agents.
'Never Enough' for Them
Mr. Floyd said that by giving in to the advocates, Council Members put themselves in a “no-win situation” because the advocates continued to fight for stronger reforms.
“Once you start giving in to people who are misguided, it’s never enough,” he said.
But more importantly, “they’re leaving schools vulnerable,” Mr. Floyd noted.
Council of Schools Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro also pointed out that the DOE failed during its prior attempt at oversight of School Safety Agents.
"This gives us real reason for concern. If the transition is to succeed this time around, the DOE will need to develop a plan that avoids past mistakes without making impossible demands of school leaders," he said.
Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who chairs the Civil Service and Labor Committee said that the predominantly black and brown women who work as School Safety Agents “play a nurturing and relatable role in our schools."
"It bothers me when the work of the School Safety Agents is marginalized," he said. "If we were smart, we would invest in their professional development including additional training and education in areas like mental health and social work as we move more towards restorative justice."
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