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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Dear Mayor Bill: Do NOT Transfer School Safety Agents To the NYC Department of Education

Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd
On the issue of transferring the oversight and funding for school safety agents from the NY Police Department to the NYC Department of Education, 

We must not let this happen.

Why am I saying this?

I have experience as the mom to four children, all of whom graduated from the NYC Department of Education. For 9 years I was a volunteer advocate, helping parents with Superintendent Suspension Hearings and Impartial Hearings (which I still do). I've been a parent advocate for 22 years, assist educators charged with 3020-a for 17 years, and every day I research cases filed in state and federal courts as well as NYSED that have been important to any constituent since the mid-late 1990s.

Veronica Nesmith, far left, with Greg Floyd and Sharon Jefferson.
Local 237 Newsline, 2009
Now as a teacher/parent advocate, I speak with SSAs all the time. I can say that most SSAs are caring professionals who want children to be safe. By the way, most are Black and brown women. When I was PTA President as well as a parent at MS 54 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, SSA Veronica "Ronnie" Nesmith was a friend, colleague, and just an awesome partner in keeping all the students in line. Love you, Ronnie!! Her picture is posted above.

Since the MS 54 Principal (Larry Lynch) could not discipline, fire or harm Ronnie who was under the NYPD, she helped guide me and gave me information about the principal's theft and fraud which enabled me to investigate and then get back to the PTA a stolen check for more than $13,000 that we had raised at a fundraiser. Larry told us that he had given the money to District 3 Superintendent Pat Romandetto. 

I have posted the fraudulent acts of the DOE for many years on my blogs and websites, hoping to fix the Department VIPs' malicious intent of hiding facts to protect the money. I call this issue a matter of national security, and wrote that article in 2004, calling the NYC DOE the "Tweed Pentagon"

In 2005 I wrote:
 Corruption and Secrecy in the Politico-Educational Complex is a Costly Combination

I also scanned in, for the first time online, the reports on the DOE titled "The Gill Commission" and the second report, "Investigating the Investigators" which informed the public of the wrong-doing inside the NYC DOE. Everyone should read these two studies in corruption. After these reports, James Gill was instrumental in establishing the new Department of Investigation and the new position of "Special Commissioner of Investigation" which was supposed to be independent of the NYC DOE. However, after the death of its' first Commissioner, Edward Stancik in 2002 the independence went out the window. SCI agents are paid by the NYC DOE and their so-called "investigations" are not at all fair or unbiased. Their goal, it seems to me, is to make sure that all complainers become the guilty party in order for the NYC DOE to protect itself from whistleblowers. A look at their 2019 budget gives any reader concern for the lack of proper oversight. My source, formerly inside SCI, tells me work is drastically underfunded, and investigations extremely mismanaged.

School safety is an issue that is at the top of every parent's list of important concerns when his or her child walks into a school building every morning. Parents must have some degree of trust to say goodbye at the door of a building, knowing that their children will be under the care and supervision of strangers, or people with whom they have had little personal contact. If parents do not feel that their child or children are safe in their schools, then public education fails. No one will send their children to a public institution of any kind if they do not believe that the school personnel will protect them while they are inside.

Thus School Safety Agents ("SSAs") must be trustworthy and they must take their responsibilities for the health, safety, and welfare of the students in their building seriously. These agents are members of Teamsters Union Local 237. Greg Floyd is President.

President Gregory Floyd presents Local 237ʼs demands to the Housing Authority and is flanked, from left, by
Edmund Kane, chief negotiator; Allen Brawer, Policy Research Group; and Barry Peek, lead attorney.

I met Greg many times when I was asked to write several speeches for him in 2007. He is a powerful speaker and a dedicated public official, and I think he is good for the Local 237 members because he seems to really care about them.

Greg Floyd is very sure that transferring his SSAs to be supervised by the Department instead of the NYPD is a terrible idea, and I agree. See Greg talk about this with Errol Louis on NY 1. In 1998 the SSAs were part of the Department, and this was a 'disaster':     

Municipal Workers Union President on Potential Layoffs and Changes for School Safety Agents
By Inside City Hall New York City
PUBLISHED 10:52 PM ET Jun. 26, 2020

Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd joined Errol Louis to discuss the city’s budget negotiations, including Speaker Johnson’s calls for cuts to school safety agents and Mayor de Blasio’s warning of potential layoffs.

David A. Hay
Greg urges parents to be outraged by the proposed transfer back to the DOE. He talks about how the Department was in control of the SSAs in the 1990s, and the NYC DOE hired felons, pedophiles, and other miscreants, basically because the vetting of personnel at the NYC DOE is lax, underfunded and unable to assess qualifications adequately. See the case of  David A. Hay, a convicted pedophile who was hired to work with Chancellor Richard Carranza.

On November 19, 2018, the NY Daily News published a story about Mayor Bill de Blasio firing Mark Peters, Department of Investigation (DOI) Commissioner. Mr. Peters claimed he was terminated because "the mayor and top aides regularly pressured the Department of Investigation to drop probes damaging to City Hall and describing the mayor in particular as vindictive and at times unhinged in his fury."

A few days ago the media picked up how disgusted de Blasio's own staff is with his mismanagement.

I know that I feel the same, but I called several of my teacher friends to find out what they thought. Everyone I spoke to said that they thought the transfer back to the DOE was dangerous, misguided, and wrong. Two of the teachers recalled being in the DOE when they were younger in the 1980's-1990's and saw the Safety Agents assaulting children, doing nothing when kids were fighting, and in general lending no assistance to violence in the school. I've seen in my cases a massive coverup and malicious prosecution of anyone who speaks up about student-to-student or student-teacher violence. Teachers who are assaulted in a classroom and report it to the principal are then charged with causing the harm that occurred in the first place. It's their fault, not the fault of the student with the brick/knife/weapon in his/her hand. 

See the story of Eileen Ghastin (pictured below):

The Partnership of Bully Power and Media Can Convict a Teacher at 3020-a

In fact, I have in my files many arbitration decisions where the educator "Respondent" is charged with calling the police on students who were harming them and/or fellow students in their class. Here is an excerpt from the decision of Arbitrator Daniel McCray, Esq., June 20, 2019:

"The Department argues Respondent is guilty of Specification 10, in that she called 911 as a form of discipline against J.B. The Department recognizes that this Specification was proffered after the initial set of charges. However, the Department asserts that this is permissible under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expressly permits the Department to bring charges within three years of the alleged misconduct. Moreover, the Department asserts there is a presumption that charges against a Respondent should be consolidated in a single 3020-a proceeding. Therefore, there is no dispute the Department could proceed separately with this charge. Moreover, the additional Specifications address the same series of events already charged and Respondent had ample time to prepare her defense. Therefore, Respondent was not prejudiced by the inclusion of the additional Specifications. The Department insists, as a result, the arbitrator should not believe Respondent's testimony that she called 911 because she feared for her physical safety and was requesting a Level III safety officer. It is undisputed that student J.B. was nowhere near Respondent when she stepped out of the hallway and called 911. Transcript at page 504. As a result, the Department insists I cannot conclude that she was reporting an emergency or crime requiring immediate police intervention.

Rather, according to the Department, the record evidence demonstrates Respondent was violating Chancellor's Regulation A-411, which requires behavioral crisis de-escalation and intervention first. This regulation clearly states when 911 may be called: "where a student's behavior poses an imminent and substantial risk of serious injury to himself or others and the situation cannot safely be addressed by school staff the Principal or designee must call 911." However, the regulation makes crystal clear that "in no circumstances should 911 be called or employed as a disciplinary response or disciplinary measure because of the student's behavior.''

According to the Department, Respondent's own testimony of why she wanted a Level III safety officer was because, according to her, only they were able to provide the appropriate type of corrective action with the student. Transcript at page 511-512. Thus, in Respondent's own words she was calling 911 to discipline the student. In addition, the Regulation goes on to state that if an employee has to call 911 without following the above procedure they must notify the Principal or his or her designee. However, it is undisputed Respondent did not do this. In fact, Principal Keane testified that she became aware that the police had been notified when they reported to the school. As a result, the Department insists it has proven Specification 10. For the same reasons, the Department argues it has proven Specification 11, that by calling 911 to discipline J.B., Respondent unreasonably and substantially interfered with his mental, emotional and/or physical well-being; and Specification 12, that it substantially interfered with J.B.'s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or other aspects of his education."

Arbitrator McCray found the charge substantiated, and terminated Respondent.

I have done several cases where the Respondent was charged with calling the police after a student created a situation of extreme danger in his/her classroom. How does this charge make sense unless the NYC DOE wants to stop anyone from reporting anything? By the way, just try to get your Freedom of Information request answered within a year. Good luck.

I think what needs to happen is:

1. Keep the School Safety Agents under the control and funding of the police department NYPD.
2. Set up training programs on Restorative Justice, conducting fair investigations, handling out of control students.
3. Establish procedures inside schools that allow immediate assistance if needed, including calling the police in to help if there is any perceived danger of harm or death in a classroom.
4. Monitor save rooms, make sure that the students who are being held there get counseling.
5. Give SSAs and Guidance Counselors time to get together to discuss students at risk.
6. Give SSAs the right to discuss students with the school nurse and to see records, with a confidential lock on the reports on a need-to-know basis.
7. Set up a chain of custody for reports of student violence that does not - and cannot - be made into charges against the reporter/educator/staff member.
8. Fund independent school monitors inside the police department, maybe 1 in each of the 32 school districts in NYC. Do not allow any coverups or attacks on those who file reports.
9. Remove the responsibility for creating financial reports and budgets from the principal, give to a District business officer hired to do accounting, tax assessments, and everything else. Principals have enough to handle already, and their focus should be on the students.

These are just some of the corrections I see, but certainly, many more are probably needed.

But what is not needed, is any movement of the SSAs to the NYC Department of Education. 

The safety of our children is at stake.

Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials