Hallway Patrol

After two years, Council moves to change school safety reports

More than two years after the legislation was originally introduced, City Council members today unanimously passed a bill that will change the way the city reports safety incidents in schools.

The Student Safety Act requires the Department of Education and New York City Police Department to report arrests, suspensions, and expulsion data four times a year and mandates that the city include a breakdown of students’ race, gender, age and status as special education students or English language learners.

Advocates including the New York Civil Liberties Union have long complained that the city’s school safety officers are too aggressive and too often intervene in disciplinary actions best left to administrators. The advocates argue that the legislation will allow parents to better understand how often school safety officers are involved in incidents and with which students.

The bill was originally introduced in 2008 by Council Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson, but got lost amid the debate over extending term limits and has laid mostly dormant since then.

One provision in the bill’s original language that was not included in the final version passed today involves beefing up the role of the the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints against New York City police officers. The board does not currently review incidents in schools, though NYCLU advocates said they will continue to push for the city to widen the Board’s jurisdiction.

NYCLU Applauds City Council’s Unanimous Passage of Student Safety Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 20, 2010 – The New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded the City Council for unanimously passing the Student Safety Act, legislation that will bring much-needed transparency to NYPD activity and Department of Education suspension practices in the city’s schools.

“This is a victory for all of New York City’s schoolchildren and the core democratic principle of open government,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “The Student Safety Act is one of the most comprehensive school safety reporting laws in the nation. It is an important step toward establishing safety and discipline policies that treat all children fairly, with respect and dignity, and toward the day when we provide a safe and supportive learning environment for all students.”

The City Council passed the legislation today in a 47-0 vote. It was supported by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Vallone, Jr.

The Student Safety Act provides a detailed framework for the reporting of discipline and police practices in schools on a routine basis. It will require the Department of Education (DOE) to submit an annual report on student discipline that shows the number of students subjected to a superintendent’s suspension (six days to one year) or a principal’s suspension (five days of less) during the school year. It also must include the number of suspension-related school transfers.

In addition to this annual report, the act will require bi-annual reports on the number of suspensions citywide for each month.  This will allow educators, policymakers and parents to determine whether suspensions increase during certain periods – such as high stakes testing time – of the school year

The bill also will require the NYPD to provide the council a quarterly report detailing the activity of its personnel in city schools. The quarterly report will show the number of students arrested and issued summonses broken down by patrol borough, and it will detail non-criminal incidents involving NYPD personnel.

Information in the annual discipline report and the NYPD’s quarterly reports will be broken down by students’ race, gender, age, grade level, special education status and whether they are English language learners.

The NYCLU and other advocates will be analyzing this data regularly to determine the impact of school safety policies on education.

“We commend the City Council for passing this important legislation, and look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to create smart and effective school discipline and safety policies in New York City,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “We’ll continue to work with policymakers to revamp school discipline and safety policies to ensure that all children are provided with equal educational opportunities. We will work for even greater accountability and transparency regarding NYPD and DOE practices in the schools. We have no doubt that smart discipline policies will increase New York City’s graduation rate and help close the achievement gap.”

The NYCLU will continue to call on the City Council to strengthen the Civilian Complaint Review Board and to broaden its jurisdiction to cover misconduct complaints against school safety officers. To provide additional transparency, the NYCLU recommends expanding the Student Safety Act’s reporting requirements to include student arrest data broken down by school and information on students who are “discharged” from school. A “discharge” is someone who leaves the school system without being counted as a dropout or a graduate, thus inflating the graduation rate.

With more than 5,200 uniformed officers, the NYPD’s School Safety Division is the nation’s fifth-largest police force – larger than the police forces in Washington D.C., Detroit, Boston, Baltimore, Dallas or Las Vegas. There are far more police personnel in our schools than there are guidance counselors or social workers.

NYPD school safety officers have the authority to detain, search and arrest children, yet they receive only 14 weeks of training – compared to six months for police officers – and are not adequately trained to operate in the special environment of the schools. All too often, police personnel intervene in disciplinary matters best handled by educators.

Police activities and DOE zero tolerance practices have a disproportionate impact on schools serving the city’s black and Latino children from low income families. In these schools, which often have permanent metal detectors, students are suspended and even arrested for minor disciplinary infractions, such as talking back, horseplay, writing on a desk, or bringing a cell phone to school.

Though few students, parents and educators know how to file a misconduct complaint against School Safety Officers, the NYPD reports that it receives approximately 1,200 complaints a year about police misconduct in schools.

The NYCLU has been working for three years along with the Student Safety Coalition for passage of the Student Safety Act.  The coalition is composed of the following organizations:

  • Advocates for Children of New York
  • Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325
  • Bronx Defenders
  • Children’s Defense Fund – New York
  • Class Size Matters
  • Correctional Association of New York
  • CUNY Graduate Center Participatory Action Research Collective
  • DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving
  • Make the Road New York
  • NAACP-Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • NAACP New York State Conference
  • National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
  • National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter
  • New York Civil Liberties Union
  • New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
  • Suspension Representation Project
  • Teachers Unite
  • Urban Youth Collaborative
  • Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”