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

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”