School-to-Prison

Black and Hispanic students in New York City most likely to be arrested and handcuffed, data shows

PHOTO: Photo courtesy of the Center for Popular Democracy
Students and advocates held a rally outside education department headquarters last week to call for an end to school arrests and summonses.

More than 92 percent of students arrested in schools last year were black or Hispanic, according to a new analysis — a racial disparity that has persisted even as the city has reduced in-school arrests and summonses.

While just over two-thirds of students are black or Hispanic, they received about 87 percent of criminal summonses issued inside schools, according to an analysis of 2016-2017 school year data by the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Center for Popular Democracy. Just over 1,100 students were arrested and 805 were issued summonses during that period, which spans from July 2016 to June 2017, the analysis of police department data shows.

Black girls were nearly 13 times more likely to be arrested than white girls, while black boys were almost 8 times more likely to be arrested than white boys, according to the groups, which have called for a ban on most school arrests and summonses.

Black and Hispanic students also accounted for 96 percent of students handcuffed during “child-in-crisis” incidents, in which students in emotional distress are removed from their classrooms and taken to a hospital for a mental-health evaluation. The police responded to more than 2,700 such incidents during this period.

Disparities in arrests, and treatment by the police and within the criminal justice system, have been a flashpoint in race relations nationwide, culminating recently in widespread protests within the NFL as football players, and now even team owners, have taken a knee during the singing of the national anthem to highlight the problem. The issue has long been a subject of contention within schools, as has the frequency of involvement by the police in resolving school discipline matters.

An Education Week Research Center analysis earlier this year found that black students are arrested in schools at disproportionately high levels in 43 states and the District of Columbia — possibly because they are more likely than students of any other race or ethnicity to attend schools with on-site police.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged schools to adopt less harsh discipline policies and, during his tenure, suspensions have dropped by 30 percent. However, as with arrests and summonses, black students remain disproportionately likely to be suspended.

School safety agents, the unarmed guards embedded in some schools, have continued to arrest or issue summonses to fewer students under de Blasio. But police officers are behind the vast majority of school arrests and summonses, which advocates say is a problem since they are not specially trained in working with students.

In 2016, 60 percent of school arrests were for misdemeanors and 39 percent for felonies; assault and robbery were the most common charges, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union report in May. The majority of summonses stemmed from marijuana possession or disorderly conduct, which covers offenses such as fighting or using profanities.

Advocates want the city to eliminate in-school arrests, summonses, and juvenile reports — which are given to children younger than 16 — for misdemeanors and non-criminal violations. They note that schools already discipline students for those infractions — sometimes with lengthy suspensions — which they say makes it unnecessary to involve the police and courts.

“Clearly there’s an issue with discriminatory policing in schools,” said Kesi Foster, a coordinator with the Urban Youth Collaborative. “It’s also unnecessary policing.”

To push for this change, the collaborative helped stage a rally outside education department headquarters Friday that organizers said drew dozens of students.

The police department press office referred questions to the education department.

Education department officials said they are working to address the racial disparities in harsh punishments. They pointed to several initiatives meant to improve the way schools respond to student misbehavior, including de-escalation training for staff and the hiring of additional guidance counselors.

The agency also helps secure free legal assistance for students who have received summonses, and has included 71 schools in a pilot program where students aged 16 or older receive warning cards instead of criminal summonses for marijuana possession or disorderly conduct.

“Last year was the safest school year on record, crime in schools is at an all-time low, and school-based arrests and summonses are continuing to decline across the city,” department spokeswoman Toya Holness said in a statement.

making plans

Controversial integration plan for Upper West Side middle schools changes, but it’s unclear whether more parents will get on board

PHOTO: Rachel Holliday Smith
CEC member Genisha Metcalf speaks at Wednesday’s hearing on a proposal to desegregate Manhattan’s west side middle schools.

Following controversy over a plan to desegregate  Upper West Side and Harlem middle schools, the Department of Education unveiled two alternatives it hopes sit better with parents and educators.

At a Community Education Council hearing Wednesday night, the education department gave an overview of two alternatives to the initial proposal to integrate the district’s 16 middle schools, which angered some parents who were concerned it would shut their children out of sought-after schools.

The major difference between the initial proposal and the new plans is that they factor more than just state test scores into admissions offers — but it’s unclear whether the changes will quell the uproar over the integration effort, which has gained nationwide attention.

In both new plans, the agency aims to level the playing field for middle schoolers in the diverse but highly segregated west side Manhattan district.

In the first proposal, priority for 25 percent of middle school seats in every middle school in the district would be given to students who come from elementary schools with high economic needs and have low scores on both English and mathematics fourth grade state tests.

Out of that quarter of seats, 10 percent would be given to students in a group comprised of the very highest-need schools with the lowest-performing test scores; 15 percent of seats would be set aside for the next-highest need and lowest-performing group of students.

In the second proposal, priority for 25 percent of seats would be given to students based on a combination of their report cards and state test scores.

The hearing was much calmer than one several weeks ago, when a video went viral showing mostly white parents complaining that their children wouldn’t receive coveted middle school spots after excelling on state tests. The furor grew when Chancellor Richard Carranza tweeted the footage with a headline that said: “Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.” He has stood by  his decision to share the footage, saying it “speaks for itself.”

On Wednesday, parents repeatedly told the CEC as well as District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul and other education department officials that the proposals, while addressing very high- and low-performing students and schools, leave other students behind.

In education department simulations of how each proposal would work, both plans resulted in double-digit increases in the number of low-performing students offered seats in three high performing schools: J.H.S. 54 Booker T. Washington, P.S. 245 The Computer School and West End Secondary School.

“Great, we’re doing a bigger push for diversity in some of the schools that have been highly sought after that historically fewer parents or students felt like they had as an option, but what are we doing to attract level 3 and level 4 students to [P.S. 180 Hugo Newman College Preparatory School]?” asked parent and CEC member Genisha Metcalf, referring to a school that fell roughly in the middle of the education department models for how each proposal would affect the district’s schools.

“Otherwise, we’re overcrowding four schools,” she added, over loud applause from the audience.

“Here’s the problem: Maybe instead of there being four desirable middle schools, there should be fifteen,” said parent Josh Kross, 41. “This is only going to create more problems.”

About a dozen parents asked questions of the plan during Wednesday’s hearing, asking how the plan would affect students with disabilities (it will not because those students will be prioritized first, regardless of the new plan, the education department said) and students who opt out of tests (students without state test scores will not be considered for the 25 percent of set-aside seats in the diversity plan, Altschul said).

They also brought very specific concerns such as whether or not potential changes to the plan would change the economic makeup of the school enough to threaten its Title I status, a federal designation that gives more funding to high-poverty schools.

“You didn’t have the answers … You didn’t do the math,” said parent Leslie Washington, whose daughter is in fourth grade at P.S. 242.

Though most who spoke up opposed the plan in some form, the proposal did have supporters in the room, including a group of principals and teachers. Cidalia Costa, a middle school teacher at West Prep Academy, said a plan to desegregate the area is “long overdue” to fix a system that’s been flawed for years.

“This plan is not for people who already have an advantage to get more advantage. So, I’m sorry, but I have to advocate for my students because they face a lot of challenges,” she said.

The Department of Education plans to make a decision about the proposal by the end of the school year, and changes would go into effect for the District 3 middle school class of 2019. A public comment period is up through May 29. The CEC is taking feedback through email at d3feedback@gmail.com.

After the meeting, Kristen Berger, chair of the CEC’s middle school committee, said she isn’t sure which proposal would be best. But she’s happy the conversation about measures to desegregate schools in the district is ongoing.

“It is a small fix, but it is a movement in the right direction,” she said of the middle school effort, adding that the group still needs to address system-wide issues including whether “all schools at all levels, elementary, and middle, are of good enough quality.”

DeVos in Detroit

Betsy DeVos’s first Detroit visit featured Girl Scouts, robots, and talk of beluga whales

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes pictures on her phone during the FIRST Robotics World Championship, held in Detroit on April 27, 2018.

Betsy DeVos was all smiles on Friday as she toured the world’s largest robotics competition and congratulated student contestants.

The event was her first visit to Detroit as education secretary. DeVos, a Michigan-based philanthropist before joining the cabinet, has a long history of involvement with the city’s education policies.

It was a friendly environment for the secretary, who has often faced protesters who disagree with her stance on private school vouchers or changes to civil rights guidance at public events. (Even her security protection appeared to be in a good mood on Friday.)

Here are four things we noticed about DeVos’s visit to downtown and the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

1. She got to talk to some local students after all.

DeVos didn’t visit any Detroit schools, and didn’t answer any questions from reporters about education in Michigan. But as she toured the junior LEGO competition, she did stop to talk to a handful of Girl Scouts from the east side of the city.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

2. She knows a thing or two about beluga whales.

She also stopped to stop to chat with students from Ann Arbor who called themselves the Beluga Builders and designed a water park that economizes water. DeVos asked how they came up with their name, and they told her how much they love the whales. “They have big humps on their heads, right?” DeVos said. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

3. She is an amateur shutterbug.

She stopped often during her tour to shoot photos and videos with her own cell phone. She took photos of the elementary and middle school students’ LEGO exhibits and photos of the robotics competition.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

4. She was eager to put forth a friendly face.

As she stopped by students’ booths, she often knelt down to children’s eye level. When she posed for group pictures, she directed students into position. And she shook lots of hands, asking kids questions about their projects.