Students, Council Stand Up in Support of Student Safety Act
Did you know?Since 2006, suspensions in NYC public schools have increased by 40% from less than 52,000 to more than 72,000 because of an over-reliance on harsh, punitive tactics to respond to minor misbehavior. High school students at the Urban Youth Collaborative became concerned that a lack of transparency in their schools’ public safety system was allowing for excessive disciplinary action and disruption of learning. They helped create the Student Safety Act, which will create transparency in the DOE’s discipline policies, and the NYPD’s policing practices in NYC’s public school system by requiring the DOE and NYPD to report on arrests and suspensions, disaggregated by race, age, gender, and ELL and Special Education status—data previously unavailable to the public. Now, after three years of organizing, the New York City Council is expected to pass the Student Safety Act on Monday, December 20th. Students from the Urban Youth Collaborative, a youth-led coalition of community groups organizing high school students of color in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, held a press conference as part of the Student Safety Coalition on December 16th with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Members Jackson, Vallone, and Mark-Viverito, and testified at the hearing. Here’s what they had to say:
Jorel Moore, 17, Future of Tomorrow (FOT):
We began this effort nearly four years ago because students were concerned that a lack of transparency in our schools’ public safety system was allowing for unnecessary disciplinary action that disrupted learning and interfered with the education of students like me in neighborhoods like mine.
Now, after countless meetings, public mobilizations, and the collection of thousands of student signatures supporting the Act, I’ve grown a little taller and we will have the transparency we need to protect students.
As a student I feel proud of myself, for my fellow students, and for New York City that something like this has happened. I feel proud that any adult who bullies students at school, when they’re supposed to keep them safe, will no longer have anywhere to hide. Getting this bill passed is a victory for students everywhere who are wrongly mistreated. They can no longer unfairly treat us like criminals in our own schools and get away with it, because we will finally have the information we need to better understand how safety policies are practiced in our schools.
When the Council passes the Safety Act on Monday, we will be victorious. And we still have our voices, and with them we have power. Don’t be mistaken: we will continue to use them.
Robert Moore, 17, Make the Road New York:
Last June, I graduated from high school. I now attend the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Since I was a tenth grader in public high school, I have worked with other students at Make the Road New York and the Urban Youth Collaborative to pass the Student Safety Act.
I think everyone in our city would agree that we want our schools to be safe, nurturing and respectful places for all students. Having information on who gets disciplined, for what reasons, and how they get disciplined, will only help us move further in that direction. No student should risk suspension for minor things like carrying a cell phone or being late to class. No student should be put in handcuffs because they are having a bad day and talked back to a teacher. I and many of my classmates have seen things like this happen. I agree that schools need rules to keep students safe. They also need to have appropriate and supportive responses for issues that come up with students every day. Many black and brown youth from low-income communities have plenty of challenges already. We shouldn’t be criminalized for behavior that other students get comforted or counseled for.
There are very good reasons that all of us have worked so hard to get the Student Safety Act passed. This Act is our first stepping stone in creating school safety policies that treat youth with the respect that we deserve. The act will require regular reporting of data on school discipline and police activity in schools. When we have this data, it will open the door to real discussions about whether students in our city, especially students in low-income communities of color, are being kept safe by current policies or being unfairly targeted by them.
Nilesh Vishwasrao, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM)
I used to be a senior at Flushing High School. I have been pushed out of school due to excessive discipline policies. I am working on my GED and hope to earn it in January 2012.
The consequences of suspensions are even more serious for undocumented youth, because once you are in the system it is easy for the Department of Homeland Security to find out your immigration status. Harsh discipline policies are adding to fear that already exist in the immigrant communities. By passing the Student Safety Act, we will finally know the impacts of current school disciplinary and safety policies and take one big step forward in creating a safe and respectful learning environment for all students.
We will continue to work as the youth of NYC to ensure our voices are heard. School systems across the country are using proven methods of school-based discipline called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Justice practices. These programs utilize behavioral guidance, mentorship, counseling, and other non-punitive practices which is a better way to create a positive learning environment in school. They have shown great success where used and we are excited to see more programs like these in New York City.
This is an important day for the Council, the advocates, and ESPECIALLY the students, and I am proud to be part of it. Thank you to the Council for your support of this important bill.