SAFETY IN NUMBERS: A class of 250 School Safety Agents will be added because of issues with attrition and recent retirements. The head of the union that represents the Agents recently cited concerns that they were understaffed thanks to the City Council's decision to scrap a proposed class of 475 School Safety Agents in response to backlash from proponents for police-free schools.

A new class of 250 School Safety Agents will be hired to address a shortage within the School Safety Division, the city Department of Education announced Aug. 19.

The prospective Agents will begin the 17-week training regimen “immediately following an on-boarding process,” according to the department. The shortage of School Safety Agents was caused by attrition and a recent slate of retirements, as well as a dubious budget move forced by the City Council.

Canceled Class of 475

Each of the city’s 1,700 public-schools has at least one School Safety Agent, with the NYPD determining staffing levels at every school in coordination with the DOE.

Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, who represents the 5,000 Agents, recently expressed concerns about the staffing shortage, citing the Council’s decision to cancel a 475-person class under pressure from advocates of police-free schools.

The decision to hire new Agents came as the city was working to transform their roles in schools. Last summer, the  Council established a two-year plan to transition control of School Safety from the Police Department to the DOE after advocates cited high rates of suspension among black and Latino students.  

During this past school year, School Safety Agents were trained in conflict resolution, restorative justice and implicit bias as part of the transition, which has been overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

“School Safety Agents play a critical role in each school community,” said NYPD Deputy Chief, School Safety Obe Olufunmilola. “They participate in mentoring and enrichment programs, provide safe places for kids to seek support, and they ensure school buildings are safe places where students can achieve. Each new Agent will have significant training to de-escalate situations that may arise, and to work with young people to prevent issues from occurring.”

Phasing Out Suspensions

For years, the de Blasio administration has been working to reduce punitive measures such as suspensions in favor of restorative-justice practices. Earlier this year, the DOE announced plans to hire 500 social workers and 100 school psychologists and add 120 new community schools as ways to expand social-emotional and mental-health offerings, particularly to help students struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the plan to shift School Safety Agents has earned criticism from advocates who argue that School Safety Agents should be completely removed from schools.

Mr. Floyd, in sharp contrast, opposed the plan to move the Agents from Police Department jurisdiction because he feared students would be unsafe. He also argued that the Agents, who were predominantly women and people of color, were being scapegoated.

Although he supported more Agents being added to the ranks, “they’re hiring half of what they should have. It's inadequate,” Mr. Floyd said. He was also concerned that the incoming Agents would not be stationed in schools in time for the start of the next school year.

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents Principals, has stated that it would help  with the transition. The union’s president Mark Cannizzaro, praised the decision to hire a 250-person class of Agents.

“We commend the Department of Education for investing in this new class of School Safety Agents and, while further investment is needed, it is a strong first step to ensure that our school buildings are safe for all,” he said. “We can’t address the academic, social-emotional and mental health of students without ensuring their physical safety, and we look forward to the arrival of these new School Safety Agents in our schools.” 

'Play Important Role'

City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who chairs the Council’s committee on civil service and labor, has supported retaining School Safety Agents.

“School Safety Agents have demonstrated over the years that they are an integral part of providing these services and play an important role in shaping the experiences of students,” he said. “Their work is not only key to the success of our young scholars, but their presence alone often provides comfort in familiar faces, ones reflective of the demographics of our student population.”

DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer stated that “schools must be safe havens for learning, and school safety agents play a critical role in ensuring that every student feels both safe and welcomed in their building. As we transition SSAs back to the DOE over the next year, we will work to deeply integrate them into our schools as partners in creating healing-centered schools.”

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