the safety dance

Quinn calls for principals to have more school discipline power

Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn shakes the hand of Cheyanne Smith, who will be a senior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice and has worked with the Urban Youth Collaborative.
Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn shakes the hand of Cheyanne Smith, who will be a senior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice and has worked with the Urban Youth Collaborative.

Mayoral candidate and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called for principals to have more control over disciplinary decisions in schools. But she stopped short of saying she would transfer full authority back to principals from the New York Police Department.

While the Bloomberg administration has famously considered principals to be the CEOs of their schools, principals’ authority does not extend to safety agents, who since 1998 have been under the authority of the New York Police Department in an arrangement that advocates say breeds tension. Some Democratic candidates for mayor have said they would restore authority to principals if elected.

But Quinn said she would seek a healthy balance between the NYPD and educators’ influence in school discipline.

“I think you want the school safety agents to also have NYPD training, you want them to also have that focus,” she said at a press conference at City Hall today. “But we want the majority of focus and we want final decisions to be made by the principals. That’s critical.”

While school safety agents would still be stationed in schools and answer to the NYPD, principals would get to pick the officers in their buildings under Quinn’s plan.

Quinn also proposed ending arrests for minor in-school offenses — such as writing on a desk, the cause of one notorious arrest in 2010 — and ensuring that school safety agents receive training on how to work with students. Some advocates have already started trying to collaborate with school safety agents to provide this type of training.

In May, a task force made up of city officials, educators, and members of the justice system called for similar recommendations. Mayoral candidates Bill Thompson, Comptroller John Liu and Sal Albanese have pledged to return control of school discipline from the NYPD to school principals. In an interview with The Nation, mayoral candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said he “wouldn’t necessarily change the jurisdiction of the school safety agents away from the NYPD” but he would change “the way decisions are made in the school.”

Cheyanne Smith, who will be a senior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice and has worked with the Urban Youth Collaborative, said Quinn’s proposal represents a step in the right direction for the city. She said police officers at her school are not skilled at working with young people and that every day when she walks through her school’s metal detectors, she feels like a criminal.

“Having police officers in our schools is extremely detrimental to the mental and emotional growth of New York City students,” she said.

Citing the passage of the Student Safety Act in 2010 and the recent reduction in the number of arrests and suspensions in city schools, Quinn also took the opportunity to criticize de Blasio, now seen as the frontrunner in the Democratic race.

“Look, you can’t just have good ideas and call yourself a progressive. If you’re going to be a progressive you need to be a progressive with results,” she said. “That’s what I’ve delivered as it relates to school safety and that’s what I will deliver with this six-point plan moving forward.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.