Mar. 20, 2007 – Civil libertarians say that security measures and the presence of police officers in New York City schools have created "hostile and dysfunctional environments" for students and teachers.
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Calling the cityâ€™s school-policing program "aggressive," the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union said in a report released yesterday that metal detectors, searches and the overwhelming presence of police officers make "schools feel more like juvenile-detention facilities," and "undermine [their] educational missions."
The ACLU found that black and Latino students were disproportionately subject to metal-detector searches. The group said that 82 percent of students attending high schools with permanent metal detectors during the 2004-2005 school year were black and Latino.
The group also says that the New York Police Departmentâ€™s (NYPD) authority over school safety has disempowered teachers and school administrators. The NYPD was given control over school safety in 1998, meaning school administrators do not have direct supervisory authority over police personnel.
As of 2006, 82 schools have the capacity to scan their students for weapons, according to the New York City Department of Education. The ACLU estimated that 93,000 students in the city pass through metal detectors to get to their classes. There are 4,625 police personnel, called "school safety agents," employed with the NYPDâ€™s School Safety Division. Their jobs include patrolling schools, operation of scanning equipment, intervening in altercations and making arrests.
Students at middle schools and high schools throughout the city are also subject to random searches through a "mobile scanning program," in which the NYPD catches students off guard with temporary scanning equipment.
The ACLU surveyed 1,000 students at high schools with permanent metal detectors. The group also interviewed teachers, government officials and school safety agents to compile their report to document the "excesses" of the policing program.
Survey participants said students were often subject to derogatory and discriminatory comments from police; intrusive searches; unauthorized confiscation of personal items; inappropriate sexual attention; and arrest for minor non-criminal violations of school rules.
The report cited several student accounts of police interaction, including one of a fifteen-year-old pupil at Samuel J. Tilden High School who was detained for "roaming the halls." According to the ACLU, a police officer grabbed her on the arm, then another officer searched her, and she was taken to a police precinct.
"Sometimes the classroom feels like a jail cell," the ACLU quoted Jane Min, a student at Flushing High School in Queens, as saying. "We have many people in this jail cell of ours and security officers going around in the hallway to reprimand us."
The NYPD did not respond to The NewStandard regarding the ACLUâ€™s report.
Students in New York are not alone in contending with the growing police presence in their schools. As previously reported by TNS in July, students and parents across the country have begun speaking up against the presence of cops at schools, and the harsh disciplinary methods they employ. Critics are also warning about a school-to-prison pipeline.
"More and more children of color are being treated as delinquents and shunted out of the school system and into the criminal justice system," said Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU racial justice program, in a press release. "The over-policing of New York City schools is just one example of this phenomenon."
The ACLU offered several recommendations to help reform the over-policing of schools. These include returning control of school safety to educators, properly training police personnel for school environments and reducing the use of metal detectors.The ACLU did not advocate for abolishing police officers in schools altogether or other radical solutions at the institutional level.