Weeks after a five-year-old boy was restrained at his school, the New York Civil Liberties Union called on the Department of Education to cut down on the use of force by school safety agents.
Executive Director Donna Lieberman said she was disappointed that Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration has not made any changes to school safety, which is controlled by the police department. She said too many students are restrained and arrested at school for minor offenses.
"We want an end to the use of handcuffs; we want to end to the control of school discipline by school safety officers," she said, at a press conference where she was joined by several teenagers who said they had witnessed arrests with handcuffs at their schools. "School discipline is a matter for educators, not police."
Fourteen-year-old Ben Broter, who didn't want to reveal which school he attends, said he saw three students restrained and arrested this fall. He said the safety agents "seem to be everywhere" but "I haven't met my guidance counselor or even know if I have one."
Lieberman also read a statement by Alecia Cabral, whose five-year-old special-needs son Derek was restrained at his Bronx elementary school in late September. She said he has trouble sleeping and is fearful of safety agents, even after transferring to a new school.
The civil liberties union and the group Advocates for Children want the City Council to support legislation — yet to be drafted — that would require the city to report detailed data on how many students are handcuffed. The city already requires the Department of Education to report the number of annual suspensions, which have declined since the law was signed into effect in 2011.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said she will release revisions to the city's discipline code "relatively soon," and said she's "confident that some of these issues will be resolved" around the use of force. Although many observers expected the revisions to be released already, Fariña said she wanted a committee to hear from all parties and to consider what's appropriate at different ages, before making a decision.
Earlier, Fariña spoke about her shakeup of school superintendents at a luncheon sponsored by the professional development group Teaching Matters, regarding school leadership. Fariña was joined by the Wallace Foundation's director of educational leadership, Jody Spiro, along with roughly 175 educators, donors, nonprofit leaders and policymakers.
Former mayor Michael Bloomberg made it easier for people from other fields to become teachers and principals, but Fariña has tightened the reins.
"If you're going to ask someone to change their practices, you need to be credible," Fariña said, describing why she wanted only successful principals to serve as superintendents. "I know the right superintendents were chosen because there's already a little consternation out there," she added, addressing the principals who were surprised that the new superintendents have already visited their buildings.
The Chancellor's requirement that principals should have more experience in teaching than they did under Bloomberg also got a boost. Spiro, of the Wallace Foundation, said the evidence was "particularly strong" in showing several years' experience helped elementary and middle school leaders. But she said the jury is still out for high school principals, who can't possibly be experts in all the different subjects taught in their schools.
Jody Cohen, principal of James Madison High School, attended the luncheon and seemed happy about this shift in emphasis. Cohen was a teacher for 10 years, before serving as an assistant principal for 11 years. She said that her superintendent, who started over the summer, co-hosted a meeting for all Brooklyn high school principals on Tuesday. She refereed to it as "very refreshing" and said she felt like they would collaborate again: such as an upcoming partnership between her school and Edward R Murrow around career and technical education.