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Friday, September 17, 2021

NYC Moves All 5,500 School Safety Agents From the NYPD to the Education Department, Leaving Many Unhappy


School safety officers at the New Bridges Elementary School in Brooklyn. ‘I’m excited that their role is changing,
’ restorative justice experts Kellsie Sayers said. 
Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

New York City already tried putting safety officers under the NYC Department of Education, and it did not work. 

NYC Education Dept. officials, City Council members rip plan to hire nearly 500 new school safety agents

We agree with Mr. Floyd. Hopefully, when Eric Adams becomes Mayor he will reverse this policy and move the school safety officers back to the NYPD, with a budget to train the SOs in "restorative justice", whatever that is.

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

New York will reassign 5,000 school police officers

by Erum Salam, The Guardian, September 17, 2021

School safety officers will be transferred out of the police department and trained in restorative justice practices. But for some, ‘retrofitting’ the job isn’t enough

New York City’s school system is beginning to remove the police from its corridors and classrooms in a move welcomed by advocates as a de-escalation of a system that is often seen as imposing harsh punishments that disproportionately target students of color.

In all, about 5,000 New York City school safety agents (SSAs) will be transferred from the supervision of the New York police department to the Department of Education (DoE) in June 2022. The city’s school system is the biggest in the US.

The change follows similar programs from other major US cities. According to Education Week, 33 school districts in places like Oakland, California and Madison, Wisconsin, defunded their school police force or changed their relationships with school safety officers in the wake of racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd.

An ACLU report using data collected by the Department of Education found that referrals, suspensions, detentions, and arrests disproportionately affect students of color and disabled students. It found that in some states disabled students were 10 times more likely to be arrested, while Latino students were arrested at a rate 1.3 times that of white students. Meanwhile, Black students were arrested at a rate 3 times that of white students, rising as high as 8 times in some states.

In a statement, the New York City Department of Education’s deputy press secretary Nathaniel Styer said: “This transition ensures that SSAs are fully aligned with DOE training and values when it comes to caring for students in crisis, deescalating situations, and ensuring that students get the mental health support that they need when they need them.”

For some advocates advocating the removal of policing from schools, there is a hope that this transfer of power will encourage the use of restorative justice – the practice of resolving conflict through communication and collaboration rather than by punishments such as suspensions and detentions.

For example, instead of suspending a disruptive or bullying student, they would be encouraged to enter into a circle with their teacher, counselor, or peers and engage in a dialogue to address the problem they are facing.

Styer said SSAs began training in conflict resolution, mediation, restorative justice, and implicit bias with the DoE this past spring and any new agents will undergo similar training.

“The goal of transitioning SSAs back to the DoE is specifically focused on ensuring that SSAs are deeply integrated into the school community, are aligned with the school’s social-emotional work, and are true partners of educators, parents, and students in ensuring the wellness of the entire community.”

Kellsie Sayers is the director of restorative practices at the Center for Court Innovation. In the 2018-2019 school year, she and her team launched a restorative justice pilot program in five Brooklyn public schools in partnership with the Department of Education, with funding from an arm of the Department of Justice. She said she learned school safety officers were integral to executing restorative justice.

“School safety officers were actually a big part of what we did. They are adults who aren’t limited in their time because they don’t have classes to run,” Sayer said. “We leaned on them heavily when we did harm circles. They often had the strongest relationships with the students in our school, different from the teaching staff or administration. They knew when a fight was going to happen because they could see in the kid’s face.”

Sayers said she is interested to see the effect of moving SSAs away from the NYPD.

“Some of the ways their job is described under the direction of the NYPD is that they’re not supposed to fraternize with the students, but a lot of their strength was that they were building those relationships,” Sayers said. “I’m excited that maybe their role is changing.”

But the transfer of power is not enough for some. Tiffany Cabán, a democratic socialist projected to win a seat on the city council, said the role of school safety agents or any kind of police in schools, should be dissolved altogether.

“The presence of school safety officers leads to the increased likelihood of arrest or charging children for minor problems into really serious legal issues. I can say this from the perspective of being a public defender in the past,” Cabán said. “We see it all the time. We say, ‘We just need to get police officers more training in mental health response.’ No, we need to make sure we have dedicated, skilled workers and not retrofit that job. There’s no place for that in a school.”

A long-term advocate for restorative justice practices, Cabán said there are other ways to achieve restorative justice than by transferring school safety agents away from the NYPD – ways that don’t leave current agents “out to dry”.

“I know the majority of SSAs are Black and brown women. These women live in the same community. How can we create a transition into work that these women are best suited to do, to support young people in their communities?” Cabán said. “We need to be funding and transitioning folks into those jobs and restorative justice programs.”

Two-Year Plan for School Safety Transition Leaves Few Happy

Two-Year Plan For School Safety Transition Leaves Few Happy

One of the most contentious aspects of the new city budget, moving all 5,500 school safety agents from the NYPD to the Education Department, will take two years and the creation of a task force to complete.

"The fact is the transition of something as large as school safety is not going to happen overnight,” Mayor de Blasio told NY1 this week.

The city said the task force will help determine the new roles of the school safety agents, who are unarmed. But advocates are frustrated. Some of them already served on a task force that renegotiated the contract between the DOE and NYPD just a year ago.

"I think the mayor’s budget deal is really more about checking a box than about really doing something that’s going to improve lives for kids,” said Johanna Miller, director of the Education Policy Center and the New York Civil Liberties Union. “As far as I know, he hasn’t reached out to any of us to see what our ideas are.”

In moving the school officers to the DOE, the city is joining a growing list of communities reducing the presence of police in schools after the death of George Floyd.

The officers were put under the NYPD in 1998 in response to violence in the schools and corruption in the School Safety Division, then under the Board of Education.

Proponents of returning them to the DOE point to statistics showing Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately arrested, handcuffed or given summonses at school.

Some advocates wanted the positions removed altogether, with funding instead going to social workers. Councilman Mark Treyger, who chairs the education committee, wants the agents to keep their jobs, but undergo what he called a “just transition” to become DOE employees better integrated into their schools. He said getting there will take time and input. And he blamed the mayor for the conversation not being further along.

“No one should be declaring victory here,” Treyger said. “This is a process. I do note for the record that the mayor was opposed to it up until the very end, and when people ask why wasn't there more discussion, well the mayor was against it up until the very end of the process.”

Treyger said while he supports the task force, the two-year timeline seems too long and he said he hasn’t gotten answers on what, if anything, will change in the meantime.

"One of the things I think they could immediately do is they could work on removing their handcuffs and removing their arrest power,” Treyger said. “I am told that that’s a conversation, but that also might impact their labor agreement.”

Mayor de Blasio told NY1 the agents will get DOE training in areas like restorative justice.

"We want school safety to more and more focus on developing real relationships with young people, nurturing relationships, supportive relationships,” de Blasio said.

But more major changes — like the ones Treyger mentioned — would likely require negotiations with the union representing school safety agents, Teamsters Local 237.

Those negotiations may not be easy. Union president, Gregory Floyd, has opposed the plan to move his members to the Education Department and says it’s up to elected officials to figure out a way forward.

“I don’t have to figure out anything, because this is not my problem. This is their problem. I’m going to wait and listen to see how they're going to navigate these choppy waters that they find themselves in. And do I offer any assistance to them? No, absolutely not. They created this problem, they’re going to have to fix it,” Floyd said.

In the days since the budget has been passed, Floyd has ripped City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, saying the speaker cut him and his members out of the talks about their future. Floyd noted his members were 90 percent non-white and 70 percent women.

“If I was a white labor leader with a white membership would he have spoken to us? And the answer is yes,” Floyd said.

Floyd went on to accuse Johnson of “governing by social media,” and said he’d given him a nickname: “Tweetie Bird Johnson.”

Asked to respond to Floyd’s comments, a spokesman for Johnson, who is white, did not address Floyd’s concerns about being shut out of talks but sent a statement from City Councilman Donovan Richards who, like Floyd, is black.

“This is a terrible attack on Corey. We want to listen to communities most affected by over-policing,” Richards said. “That means communities like mine and other ones that have been hurt for decades. We want to eliminate the school to prison pipeline, and that is what we are fighting for.”

Floyd argued the Education Department is not equipped to effectively manage school safety.

"Can the Department of Education supervise, screen process, hire and do all the things necessary for our schools as far as security? And the answer is no,” Floyd said.

If the city simply wanted officers to get more training, that could have been handled without moving the officers, he said.

"At this point, they created a big mess, they’re not going to make anybody happy."

It’s a mess that the city is giving itself two years to sort out.