The de Blasio administration isn’t moving fast enough to make long-promised reforms to the way student discipline is handled in schools, advocates say.
Children as young as five are still being handcuffed in schools too often, they say, and safety agents—not teachers and principals—are handling most disciplinary matters. And while city officials say changes are on the way, months of silence from the de Blasio administration led the New York Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups to take their frustrations public on Wednesday.
“The de Blasio administration must stop dragging its feet and make the safety of our children in school its top priority,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, which organized a press conference outside of the city’s monthly Panel for Educational Policy meeting.
Lieberman was joined by a group of New York City public school students, two of whom said that they often felt intimidated by the school safety agents who work in schools under an agreement with the New York Police Department. Sixteen-year-old Krutika Khatri said she regularly feels bullied while waiting to pick up her sister.
“They’re always telling me to get off of school property while I wait for her,” Khatri said. “Some days, they tell me that they will escort me off of school property if I don’t move.”
The city’s school discipline policies have been under scrutiny for years, given the disproportionate suspension rates of black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities. (Black and Hispanic students account for 90 percent of suspensions but just 70 percent of city students; students with special needs account for about one-third of suspensions.)
A coalition of advocates led by retired Chief Judge of New York Judith Kaye made recommendations for changes in 2013, and the discipline code—which outlines the city’s school discipline policies and students’ rights—has already changed over the last few years to emphasize alternatives to suspension.
De Blasio has promised further changes, though he has said the NYPD should continue to have authority over school safety. An official said in May that the city would establish restorative justice programs in as many as 20 schools, but advocates say they have heard little about the plans since — and the city delayed making any changes to the disciplinary code as the school year began in September.
On Wednesday, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said a committee of advocates, school principals, and other city commissioners have been meeting to discuss the changes, but they are waiting on approval from “many constituencies,” including the NYPD.
“We are going to be coming out with a statement relatively soon,” Fariña said. “We’re very confident that many of these issues will be resolved.”
The PEP did make a change to the department’s disciplinary code to clarify when employees accused of using corporal punishment can request information about their alleged offenses. More significant potential changes, Lieberman said, would be ending the use of handcuffs in school and giving principals more control over discipline.
“That’s what they should be talking about,” Lieberman said.