class action

NYCLU lawsuit challenges city's school discipline policies


Stepping up its campaign against excessive policing in city schools, the New York Civil Liberties Union today sued the city on behalf of students who say they’ve been victims of overaggressive school safety officers.

The abuses alleged in the 56-page complaint filed in federal court today “shock the conscience,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman at a press conference this morning. The NYCLU charges that school safety officers threatened, intimidated, handcuffed, and assaulted students whose only offenses included writing on a desk or being late for class.

The NYCLU has sued the city before about single cases of abuse by school safety agents, who are overseen by the police department rather than the Department of Education. In November, the city agreed to pay $55,000 to a student who said he was assaulted by a safety agent at Robert F. Kennedy High School in Queens. Today’s suit is different because it seeks to represent all city students and because it aims to establish that the city’s official school discipline policies violate students’ civil rights.

The NYCLU wants the court to require the city to give authority over school discipline to educators, make information about school safety more accessible and transparent, provide better information about how students can file complaints about safety agents, and improve the training given to the agents. There are about 5,500 school safety agents, making that division of the NYPD larger than all but four municipal police departments in the country.

One of the five named plaintiffs, whom NYCLU says represent middle and high school students in general, broke down this morning while describing what happened to her in October outside her school, IS 151 in the Bronx. (Watch her statement in the video above.) Identified in the complaint as D.Y., the 13-year-old girl said multiple school safety agents handcuffed her and pushed her around after she refused to enter the school building. She was never charged with a crime. D.Y.’s story is one of 26 outlined in the complaint.

Today’s lawsuit represents the culmination of two years of work, according to lawyers from NYCLU and the American Civil Liberties Union. The city must respond to the claims within about a month, although a corporate lawyer working on the case on a pro-bono basis, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, said NYCLU would likely give the city an extension. 

The policy recommendations have appeared before in two major reports NYCLU released in 2008 and 2009. They also make up the core of the Student Safety Act, a bill that most City Council members support but has never been brought to a vote.

Since the NYCLU began its school safety campaign, some details have emerged from inside the notoriously opaque complaint process. James Secreto, the commanding officer of NYPD’s school safety division, told the City Council last fall that 27 percent of complaints against school safety agents are substantiated by the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Only about 4 percent of complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent agency that investigates charges against all other police officers, are substantiated, according to Udi Ofer, a NYCLU lawyer.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.