the safety dance

Spike in weapons seized in schools, pro-charter group reports

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

A pro-charter advocacy group is continuing to argue that the city’s schools have grown markedly less safe under Mayor Bill de Blasio, this time by revealing police data Friday that shows the number of weapons confiscated in schools jumped last year.

The report by Families for Excellent Schools, a staunch foe of the de Blasio administration, follow two separate incidents where students brought guns to city schools this week. The attention to school safety comes as the mayor tries to revamp the city’s school-discipline policies.

The data, which the city did not dispute, shows that the police recovered 1,678 weapons in the 2014-15 school year, an increase of 170 weapons from the previous year. (That included a significant spike in taser and stun gun recoveries.) The number of recovered weapons has been fluctuating since 2010 with the least weapons found in 2014, according to the data.

As part of its reevaluation of the city’s school discipline and safety policies, the de Blasio administration is looking into removing metal detectors from some schools. The increase in weapons could make it harder for the city to make the case for removal.

Education department officials said they work in close partnership with the city’s police department to swiftly address safety incidents.

“Schools must be safe havens for students, staff and families and there is absolutely zero-tolerance for any weapons in schools,” said department spokeswoman Toya Holness.

In two different incidents this week, students were caught with loaded guns in schools. In the first, a fifth-grader brought a gun to his Queens elementary school. Two days later, a 15-year-old carried a gun into a nearby high school. Neither school has a metal detector.

Meanwhile, the mayor and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña continue to push forward with discipline reforms.

This fall, de Blasio released a “roadmap” for changing school discipline that calls for the police department to determine where metal detectors can be eliminated or scaled back. Earlier this week at a city council hearing, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the city is still reviewing the use of metal detectors at some schools, and will make a decision by September.

Some advocates argue that the metal detectors are demoralizing to students of color, who are disproportionately subjected to them. Nearly half of all black high school students pass through metal detectors, compared with just 14 percent of white students, according to a recent WNYC analysis.

But many educators and parents argue that metal detectors are necessary to prevent dangerous weapons from entering schools.

The FES report could add fuel the second argument, and is designed to stoke concerns that de Blasio’s attempt to overhaul school discipline will jeopardize students’ safety.

“Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to confront the epidemic of violence in our schools is putting families across the city at risk,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, Chief Executive Officer of Families for Excellent Schools.

In a report that FES released in February, the group argued that state safety data shows that school safety incidents have increased under de Blasio. The group also paid for a series of television ads based on the data claiming that almost every public school child is exposed to school violence.

However, the city cited a different set of data that showed incidents has decreased. And the state education department quickly flagged the numbers highlighted by FES, saying the metric they are based on is problematic and under review.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, de Blasio’s close ally who often trades fires with pro-charter groups, blasted FES in an op-ed Friday for using those statistics. In particular, he attacked the group for ignoring another trend that he said the data shows: that safety incidents increased more quickly from 2014 to 2015 in charter schools than district schools.

“If in fact the state numbers are not reliable,” he wrote in the New York Daily News, “then we are seeing yet another instance of charter advocates looking only at the numbers they want to see.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.