Blocking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Discipline Code Still On Reform Agenda

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Only for use in the series RESET. For the city's public school students, interactions with officers is part of their day. (Ruddy Roye)

New York City has the largest school district in the country and a reputation for doling out harsh penalties. Even the Justice Department has warned that routine infractions should land a student in the principal’s office — not in a police precinct. As another school year wraps up, pressure is on Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce discipline policy reforms.

The kind of trouble that can land students in jail is more likely to happen while while they’re in school rather than out on summer break. Fifty percent more juveniles went through the criminal justice system in May 2013 than in August that year, according to Department of Probation intake data. “They aren't better behaved during the summer than the winter," observed former DOP Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, in February. "They're just less surveilled."

As senior advisor in the administration's Office of Criminal Justice, Schiraldi is now focused on coming up with a plan that will help reduce the number of kids getting hauled out of school in handcuffs, attempting to close what has come to be known as the "school-to-prison pipeline."

About 118,000 students pass through metal detectors to get into school every day — nearly 1,000 of them at Boys and Girls High School on Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “So now you come into the classroom after having gone through these security checkpoints and you’re expected to be present and learn and pass the tests," said Dionne Grayman, who taught at Boys and Girls last year. Grayman said she's seen how the layers of security take its toll on students and interferes with their ability to learn.  

 Middle school students who attend M.S. 301 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said they had all been suspended in the recent past. (Ruddy Roye)

Five thousand uniformed school safety agents are tasked with patrolling and keeping campuses safe. They don't carry guns but are deputized to use handcuffs and make arrests. This security force is blamed for a negative school climate. But Gregory Floyd, president of their union, Local 237, thinks that perception is unfair.

"For instance, if you have a teacher who decides that there is a student in his or her class that isn’t doing the work, they call the school safety agent in,” said Floyd. “I've heard about arrests where a student was drawing on a desk — the safety agent should have never been called in on that situation."

It’s been three years since the NYPD was required to make school arrest data public. In that time, there have been more than 5,100 arrests and summonses. Nearly two out of three students arrested were black. And of the nearly 665,000 kids who've been suspended since 2001, more half were black — even though black students represent only 30 percent of the total student population.

Eighth grader Gareik McGall, who attends M.S. 301 in Bed Stuy, said he was suspended for vandalism last year after he chased a student who took his wallet and a classroom chair fell and broke.

"It felt like they didn't really care what happened," the 14-year-old said. "They want less problems at school so they suspend kids for no reason.”

Most of his friends have been suspended too, for everything from fighting to sassing back to the lunch lady. "Insubordination" is one of the top reasons kids get banished from school, and it’s the one part of the discipline code advocates and parents agree must be changed.

"Testing the limits…it’s a way of life for teenagers," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "And yet the discipline code allows kids to suffer really irreparable harm."

Cassandra Alston Townsley (left) said she's so fed up with the number of school suspensions, she is planning to send her 14-year-old son Malachi, who's been suspended twice, to an out-of-state high school next year. (Ruddy Roye)

Having an arrest record has known consequences, but the effects of suspension can also be long-lasting — spending extended periods out of school is linked to lowered graduation rates. In his book Punishment and Inequality in America, Bruce Western found that nearly 60 percent of black males who dropped out of school were incarcerated by the time they were in their 30s. Most supporters of school discipline reform agree that any real fix must address deeper issues — like why kids act out in the first place. Spending on guidance services like social workers and psychologists is down more than 2 million dollars over three years.  


Karen Frillmann and David L. Lewis


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Comments [16]

john from office

Roy I am not a bigot, I am someone who went through the public school system in Brooklyn. African american males are not raised well, I witnessed sex in the bathrooms, drugs in the stairs and assaults on teachers. Anyone smaller and weaker was fair game. Sorry, experience counts in life and these kids deserve suspension and if needed jail.

Mom, keeps making excuses for bad behavior, blaming the teachers, the police and anyone one else but herself.

African Americans wonder why "others" don't want their kids in black schools, they should look at their home life and how they raise their kids.

DeBlasio and WNYC, play into this by not addressing any of this. I guess the black cops, black school guards and black school teachers are just racist and bigots too.

Jun. 18 2014 08:08 AM
Rome from Brooklyn

Be real. They could have picked a better representative to fight against over zealous suspensions. Some suspensions are overdue. How many chances must Malachi get. His "Mother" and "Father", yes, he has both, have spent ten years using back door diplomacy getting him out of trouble. "Mom" has accosted students and teachers in and out of school to talk them out of complaints against him. It's always everybody else who at fault. It doesn't matter where he goes. What are they going to say when he is kicked out of yet another school?

Jun. 17 2014 06:49 PM
ritarenee from brooklyn

As a soon to be new parent of an Black child, this whole school system scares the crap out of me! My husband attended school in Brooklyn and doesn't seem to be too worried but I am from upstate NY and have no experience with such segregated schools. At this point I think private school may be the only option because if you live in an affordable neighborhood it seems like your doomed to have a high concentration of poorer children that are being raised like wolves! I keep doing research and hope the situation gets better in the near future but it doesn't look good.

Jun. 17 2014 06:18 PM
John from Bklyn

Will the experiences (not the opinions) illustrated by these comments ever make their way into a WNYC segment?

They will not, and WNYC News staffers, it’s fair to sincerely ask: why not? Is it groupthink or is it a liberal McCarthyism?

Oh well, it’s still a great station.

Jun. 17 2014 03:02 PM
Roy from Queens

"@ john from office
Don't blame the police, blame yourselves. I predict Malachi will end up being just another docket number, note there is no mention of dad."

Actually, he's one of the few good kids, but you don't care being such a blind bigot.

Jun. 17 2014 02:33 PM
Dave From NorthEast Bronx

The high school I attended in the Bronx in the late 80s was one of the first in the city to get metal dectectors. We had a brawl and a shooting outside the main gate. Hell, someone even pulled out a rust Colt 45 and brandished it around in the gym locker.
Many of us, students and parents, were very happy to see those dectectors by then. It took 5-10 seconds to empty our pockets and get through each morning.
Ater that, the violence moved to the housing project up the block. School became a safe zone.

Jun. 17 2014 02:16 PM
Brian from Brooklyn

It was striking to hear this report wind its way to the question of root causes and then give no consideration to the home life of these kids, to their relationship to their parents and their parents expectations of them.

Jun. 17 2014 02:03 PM
Joanne from NYC

I taught for 20 years in the South Bronx at a school for "emotionally disturbed" children. There were constant, consistent assaults (let alone the most abusive, disgusting language and behavior that would NEVER be tolerated anywhere else on this planet)on students and teachers. The school was 99% black and Hispanic. These are your stats. You think this is skewered, I made this up?! Teachers, myself included were assaulted at least once in their career, NOTHING was reported, the police stats are NONSENSE and representative of nothing. For every reported incident, there are 20 to the one that are NEVER reported.
The counselors are suppose to be addressing the enormous needs of these children, but they are too busy hiding and padding their pensions.
Students have respect for no one, everything is tolerated, there are no rules except to get thru the day. Suspension? HUH? What's that? Rarely did I see a child suspended, cannot recount one instance of suspension.
I have seen this same ridiculous article one too many times in my career, you people have NO IDEA what you are talking about nor will you ever know, you are not allowed into these schools, you would vomit when you see what occurs. There are a million plus students in the NYC schools in some of the worst, high crime neighborhoods in NYC....and you think a report of 5,100 arrests in three years EXCESSIVE????? Time to stop and smell the coffee grinds, there are SERIOUS issues in the NYC schools that are not being addressed and will never be addressed when you hide behind these skewered numbers.

Jun. 17 2014 11:48 AM
DM from Brooklyn

I love how the commenters in this section seek to demonize these kids and label the blame on them as full fledged criminals. Since when did the youth become mentally handicapped and violence prone thugs. If you paint the picture, punish and socialize them into the roles, then yes the profile will stick. From growing up myself in NYC schools being searched by security, its dehumanizing. There is no empowerment or support or meeting half way. There is only the perception of young violent thug and thus must meet swift arrests and punishments. This obviously is not a blank check as there are legitimately disruptive students who maliciously seek to disrupt classrooms, however branding everyone in the same category is a poor practice that furthers the disparity in ability and achievement for many traditionally underserved inner city kids.

Jun. 17 2014 11:39 AM
Jonathan Joseph from Brooklyn

It is no surprise that "spending extended periods out of school is linked to lowered graduation rates"; what is surprising is that the author of this article is not aware that suspended students have no reason to be out of school. The NYC public school system operates a network of Alternate Learning Centers, to which students are required to report during their suspensions. At these sites (where I have worked as a teacher for the last three years) the students have an opportunity to learn the four basic subjects (Math, English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science) from qualified teachers. In addition, there is a Guidance Counselor, and students are advised and instructed to develop social skills, such as respect, responsive listening, assertive behavior, handling anger, etc.

Of course, some students choose to learn little or nothing, and the population that is sent to these ALC's is prone to continue some of their problematic behavior. Still, it must be noted that the D.O.E. makes a real effort to educate even its most difficult students.

Jun. 17 2014 11:06 AM
Carmen from Staten Island

Dave from Northeast Bronx is absolutely correct. Even at the elementary school level, there is a segment of children that are African American and although they are a small percentage of students, commited daily offices like fighting with other students, cursing at teachers and other staff members, completely disruptiing each and every lesson in their claasrooms. YES, each and every lesson. I have witnessed this for 7yrs in the same school. Parents excuse this behavior by blaming racisim or lying staff members. And they come into school everyday and are never diciplined.. So that there is no appearence of racisim..

Jun. 17 2014 10:49 AM
Mutale Nkonde from Bedford Stuyvesant, New York

Thank you so much for producing a story where teenagers are allowed to be teenagers. I have no idea why a school safety officer would be called because a student wrote on a desk. I went to high school during the early 90's and children did this all the time.

I am also concerned about the lack of psychological support for children living in poverty because this stress plays out at school. I am looking forward to seeing if the de Blasio Administration will move away from the "bad kid" Bloomberg model. If the research shows this is not working lets change it.

Thank you for this report. I look forward to an update.

Jun. 17 2014 10:46 AM
John from Bklyn

Another step in the WBAI takeover of WNYC news.

Jun. 17 2014 09:01 AM
BK from Hoboken

I love that the reporter says that children who are suspended are more likely to end up dropping out and more likely to end up in jail, making it sound like getting suspended turns a kid into a criminal. Well gee, bad kids who get suspended as schoolchildren also end up criminals? I think you are trying to tie a correlation into causation, which is completely off base. Kids complain about being suspended for fighting? Boo hop. I was scared to death of having to be disciplined by my teachers because I respected them, and knew my parents would kill me if I misbehaved in school. Where is the respect? This piece is a terrible cop out for disrespectful kids and the parents who raised them that way.

Jun. 17 2014 08:51 AM
john from office

Dave you are right on the money. The tone of this segment was that the kids are just kids and mean administration people abuse them. How about these parents being parents and parenting their kids. These boys dont have dads at home, a vast problem in the black community, and don't do well with authority. When they deal with authority figures, they end up in jail, so be it.

Don't blame the police, blame yourselves. I predict Malachi will end up being just another docket number, note there is no mention of dad.

Also, as an aside, cut down on the soda.

Jun. 17 2014 08:24 AM
Dave From NorthEast Bronx

Most of these kids are getting arrested because they are helping to make a place of learning an impossible place to learn. There is also a vast corelation between what goes on in these neighborhoods and the violence in the neighborhoods schools.
I volunteer for a mentoring program at my old junior high school in the northeast Bronx and find it astonishing how quickly these kids are willing to turn to violence to solve the slightest dispute they have with each other.
The increase in violence arrest is probably because you have a high concentration of violent kids in these schools daily and not so much in one location during the summer. Also, there's less monitoring during the summer.
I find it amazing how people/parents will scream and complain when violent kids are arrested but turn around and blame the school/staff when these same kids perpetuate violence in the schools.
We need to start taking a hard look at who's raising these kids, where they are being raised and the type of values that are being instilled in them daily. Maybe then we can start solving the problem of of the school-to-prison pipeline.
If you don't believe me, I would recommend that you volunteer, work or live in one of these hight arrest schools/neighborhoods for a year. I bet you won't be complaining about metal detectors then.

Jun. 17 2014 08:15 AM

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