Thursday, July 9

Very scary report from the ACLU: Criminalizing the Classroom

Just finished reading a recent ACLU report on the NYC schools.
It’s some pretty scary stuff..and not scary in the “I’m so mind-numbingly bored” or “I wish I were way cooler” way.
Scary in the, there’s a serious police presence in too many NYC schools and schoolchildren are being terrorized by the very people meant to serve and protect.

According to the report, over 93,000 children have to pass through metal detectors each morning. This includes about 100 schools with permanent metal detectors, and those schools subjected to part of the roving program.

It seems really strange to be protesting police presence in schools.
People always talk about making schools safer. We all know why.
But this report presents a pretty compelling case FOR school safety while being AGAINST police officers and metal detectors.

For one thing, there seems to be a lot of confusion over the role of the police officers and SSA (School Safety Agents) within the school and general law enforcement context.
The report documents numerous occasions in which students have been arrested for breaking rather insignificant school rules.

There’s really no excuse for a 9th grade to be handcuffed and brought to the police station for cursing in the halls. That’s a minor school infraction, best ‘policed’ and punished by a school administrator.

The power dynamic just sounds awful.
Fully armed police officers patting down young students, with multiple reports of a flagrant disregard for policies meant to ensure student safety and security.
Male police officers are not supposed to pat down female students. Yet the report contains numerous personal accounts (from students, faculty, and parents) of this rule being ignored. Another male student reported that he is routinely humiliated by the police officers for being openly gay. He reported that they flip coins to see who will have to pat him down, something they do not subject his subjectively heterosexual peers to daily.

Worse yet, almost 1/3 of all the students polled in the study felt that an officer had touched them inappropriately or made them feel uncomfortable through verbal communication.

Since the officers (both NYPD and SSAs) are overseen by the Police department, students, their families and educators have to navigate a large and confusing system to lodge a complaint.

Even if a student believes that their rights are being violated, how are they going to protest their treatment?
Most people do not clearly understand their constitutional rights, and even if they do, are they all expected to have the knowledge and resources to navigate the legal system?
The report also highlights that paying for the metal detectors and other security measures has had a direct impact on the ability of the schools to provide educational material. While the city has been paying hundreds of millions of dollars to provide these ‘safety services,’ they have also been routinely cutting allocations for book and salaries. The report notes that in one large school (4,000+ students) there are multiple metal detectors and SSAs, but not nearly enough desks. The entire complex also lacks a single librarian.

The sad part about this situation is that all of the police officers, metal detectors and SSAs have not made the schools safer. The report points out that the decline in school violence is NOT statistically significant, a fact that is often obscured when the city is reporting on its progress.

Rather, police personnel get involved in more than twice as many non-criminal incidents at schools with permanent metal detectors that at typical similarly sized schools. So the children attending these schools are instead being forced to endure a police presence that does not increase their safety, but does increase their level of negative interaction with the legal system.

Getting back to safety, the ACLU proposes several measures that have been highly successful in other school districts across the country.

The Los Angeles school system has a police force, but it reports directly to the superintendent of the district. It also does not allow police officers to use the metal detectors, and allows school administrators to take over this role.

Another large school district, Miami-Dade does not employ any walk through metal detectors at all, and police officers again report directly to the school administrators and superintendents.

Educators and administrators in NY have expressed rather clearly that many of these matters are best handled within the school. They of course want safe environments for their students, but not by turning their schools into mini-penitentiaries.

There are other obviously other options.
We don’t have to have metal detectors.
Or police officers who pat down students, confiscate food, and terrorize students.
NYC should learn a lesson from this failed experiment, and change course before a generation of students learn that government officials would rather pay for handcuffs than books.