As calls have grown louder to remove the police department from overseeing school security, activists have an unlikely ally: Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz.
In a letter to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, Moskowitz wrote that control of roughly 5,100 school safety officials should be transferred back to the education department and the officers should be retrained.
“While the police will inevitably be required in some instances where the safety of students or school personnel is threatened, we should start with the presumption that our students are children in need of help, not criminals in need of policing,” Moskowtiz wrote, echoing advocates who have renewed calls for reforming school safety.
Moskowitz is a frequent critic of de Blasio and her letter draws attention to a political weakness. The mayor has faced enormous criticism for the police department’s forceful — and often violent — response to largely peaceful protestors who have sought to draw attention to the killing of George Floyd and systemic racism.
But Moskowitz’s effort to outflank the mayor by staking out a position on his left is also in tension with the charter network’s own “no excuses” philosophy and strict discipline practices. Success has been accused of involving the police in student discipline, including dropping a student off at a police precinct, and threatening to call 911 to push students out of the network. And Moskowitz has blasted de Blasio’s previous efforts to minimize punitive approaches to student misbehavior.
Ann Powell, a success spokesperson, defended the network’s practices. “Calls to 911 are made to obtain the assistance of EMS, not the police, in situations in which a child is in crisis or in danger of hurting him/herself,” Powell wrote in an email. She did not say if Success has taken any steps to alter its own approach to student discipline aside from Moskowitz’s call to transfer control of school safety.
Responding to questions from Chalkbeat, education department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer did not directly address Moskowitz’s comments — or offer a rationale for keeping school safety under the purview of the police.
“We will continue to work with the Success schools that are in our buildings to create welcoming, inclusive, anti-racist learning environments,” he said in a statement. “We see that work through in our public schools by investing in fairer discipline practices, implicit bias trainings, and culturally responsive curriculum.”
Spokespeople for other charter networks — including Uncommon, KIPP, and Achievement First — did not immediately say if they support removing police department supervision of school safety personnel, who provide security at both district and charter schools.
Also on Monday, Success officials announced it will follow the lead of other major charter networks by cancelling classes on Tuesday to allow students and staff to grieve the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck. The incident has sparked protests across the country, including in New York.
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“In the immediate aftermath of [Floyd’s] murder, we put our kids and families first, providing the consistency and structure that are so important for children,” Moskowitz wrote in her letter. “But as more days have passed, it seems appropriate for all of Success Academy to take a day to reflect and heal, and to process all the events, feelings, and thoughts of the past two weeks.”
Other major charter networks, including KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and Ascend, had already announced class cancellations related to Floyd’s death.
Moskowitz seemed to acknowledge some frustration within the city’s largest charter network over its reaction to the killing of Floyd.
“I have received many emails and many communications that [Success Academy] must do more, and you’re right,” Moskowtiz said in a video posted to Facebook on Monday. The network said a series of town halls are in the works for parents and staff to discuss “race and Success Academy’s response to recent events.”