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A DIFFERENT PATH: Advocates rallied March 18 against a City Council bill that would mandate the transfer of School Safety Agents from the Police Department to the Department of Education, which some believed would not end students of color being disproportionately punished. Advocate groups praised mayoral candidates  Shaun Donovan, Dianne Morales and Maya Wiley for stating that they support removing police from schools. 

Mayoral candidates Maya Wiley, Shaun Donovan and Dianne Morales committed to removing police from schools—while Scott Stringer, Kathryn Garcia and Eric Adams believed that School Safety Agents should remain in their posts.

During a series of mayoral forums hosted by the Brotherhood Sister Sol, a group that provides educational programming and training for young people of color, candidates discussed school safety and the disproportionate number of suspensions and summonses administered to black and Latino students.

Change Too Mild?

In response to these concerns, the City Council has established a two-year plan to transition control of School Safety Agents from the Police Department to the Department of Education. But many advocacy groups argued that the reforms did not go far enough and called for School Safety Agents to be removed.

When asked whether they would commit to police-free schools during the March 16 and 17 forums, half of the candidates who participated said they would.

“I’ve been very clear that we need to get the police out of our schools, and I would absolutely do that as Mayor,” said Mr. Donovan, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama Administration. “But what’s most critical: what do we actually replace the police with?”

He has proposed that School Safety Agents be transitioned into what he called Positivity, Prevention, Relationships and Response Coordinators trained in de-escalation, and would hire 150 additional Social Workers in order to help address students’ emotional needs.

Ms. Wiley, a former Counsel to Mayor de Blasio and ex-chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and Ms. Morales, former director of the social-services nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods, also want the Agents removed from schools.

Morales: Critical First Step

“I certainly don’t think that police-free schools are the only mechanism to move towards equity, [but] I do think it is a critical first step towards bringing equity into our schools,” Ms. Morales said.

But Mr. Adams, who retired from the NYPD as a Captain after 22 years as a cop, said that he wanted School Safety Agents to remain in schools, with some changes to how they operate. City Comptroller Stringer, who has two children in public school, called the Agents “an important resource.”

The student-led advocate group Urban Youth Collaborative stated that “New York City students deserve a Mayor who will fund our well-being, not the school-to-prison pipeline. For too many years, our city’s leadership has ignored the chorus of student voices calling for police-free schools. We’re excited that Dianne, Maya, and Shaun have publicly committed to getting this done.”

The debate over the planned transition of School Safety Agents has continued between those advocating police-free schools and those who want to retain the Agents. Advocates held a rally March 18 outside Council Member Costa Constantinides’ Queens office opposing Intro. 2211, which he sponsored, to codify the transfer.

Student Marcos Romero said that teen advocates were "devastated" when the City Council announced the planned transition, which he called a "harmful vision for real school safety."

Union: Scapegoating Them

Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd has repeatedly pushed back against the transfer, arguing that schools would be left more vulnerable and that School Safety Agents were being scapegoated.

During a March 16 Council hearing on the NYPD’s budget, Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who chairs the Civil Service and Labor Committee, defended the Agents, who are predominantly women of color.

“We are just looking at low-hanging fruit and criminalizing School Safety Agents, which are black and brown women who sometimes are the only semblance of our community that these children see day-in and day-out,” he said.

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