School Safety Personnel Undermine Educators at Bronx High Schools, NYCLU Charges
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK — In response to a series of recent altercations between police personnel and officials at a Bronx high school, the New York Civil Liberties Union today charged that school safety agents are undermining the education process by repeatedly interfering with the authority of school officials, and called on the Department of Education to address the growing problem.
“The ongoing problems with school safety personnel are utterly unacceptable,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “Unless and until corrective action is taken by the Department of Education and the New York City Police Department, incidents such as these with school safety personnel will continue to occur and to negatively impact education. Procedures must be put in place to avoid such difficulties.”
At issue are three recent altercations that have occurred between students, parents and educators at the Bronx Guild High School and Pablo Neruda High School, which are located within the campus of Adlai Stevenson High School. Police personnel have been sent to ensure safety on the campus as part of New York’s “Operation Impact” program.
On April 7th at 5 p.m., parents attempting to enter Stevenson for a parent-teacher night at the smaller schools were blocked from entering by school safety personnel, even though school officials had secured a permit from the Department of Education allowing parents to enter the building before 5:30 p.m. Safety personnel ignored the permit and the pleas of the principals of Bronx Guild and Pablo Neruda. They only allowed the parents to enter when the assistant principal from Adlai Stevenson arrived on the scene, 20 minutes later.
The day after this incident, school safety agents denied entry to at least five Bronx Guild students who arrived at 9:15 a.m. and were scheduled to present a project at 10 a.m. as part of a Presentation of Learning day. After two unsuccessful attempts to enter the building, school safety personnel refused their entry. The students went home and missed the presentation, as well as the entire day of school.
The most recent incident occurred on April 15th when a Bronx Guild student was refused entry into the Stevenson building because he was carrying a basketball. The student had brought the ball for use in a gym class at the local community facility used by Bronx Guild. After 15 minutes, the safety personnel refused to let him enter the school and then confiscated and “vouchered” the basketball. The student was then forced to go to the dean’s office to retrieve it.
Last week, the Bronx District Attorney dismissed charges against the Bronx Guild principal, a school aide and a 16-year-old student who were arrested by a police officer stationed at the school. The school officials were charged with attempting to interfere with the arrest of the student, whom the officer claimed shouted an obscenity in the hallway.
The NYCLU has sent three separate letters to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein asking for information on Department of Education policies governing school safety agents and police officers assigned to work in city schools. The Chancellor has yet to provide satisfactory answers to the letters, said the NYCLU.
A copy of the most recent letter follows:
April 21, 2005
Chancellor Joel I. Klein
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street, Room 320, B4
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chancellor Klein:
We write to raise serious concerns about three recent incidents in which school safety personnel have interfered with the authority of school officials and undermined education. These incidents raise the same type of concerns that we have identified in previous letters — and that you have failed to address. In our letters, we have requested all written policies from your agency governing school safety agents and police officers assigned to schools, apart from the NYPD Patrol Guide and the Chancellor’s Regulations. We have also raised several important issues related to school safety, the relationship between school safety personnel and school officials, and the authority of principals over their schools. We have asked to meet with the Department of Education in order to discuss these issues.
Regrettably, we have received no satisfactory response to our concerns and requests. Accordingly, we renew our requests for written policies governing school safety personnel and for a meeting with you. We urge you to meet with us before May 1, when students return to school after their spring recess, to discuss possible solutions to the concerns raised in our earlier letters to you.
April 7 was parent-teacher night in the city public schools. Adlai Stevenson High School, a large impact school that houses several small schools, had scheduled its parent-teacher conferences to begin at 5:30 p.m. Bronx Guild High School and Pablo Neruda High School, two of the small schools within Stevenson, had scheduled their conferences to begin at 5:00 p.m. To ensure that their parents would be able to enter the school in time for their conferences, the schools secured a permit from the Department of Education (copy enclosed) allowing parents into the building before 5:30 p.m. However, when Bronx Guild and Pablo Neruda parents showed up at 5:00 for their scheduled conferences, school safety personnel refused to allow them to enter the Stevenson building. The Bronx Guild interim principal and the Pablo Neruda principal arrived to show the school safety personnel the Department of Education permit they had secured, but the school safety personnel said that these principals did not have any authority. The school safety personnel refused to let the parents in until the Stevenson assistant principal arrived on the scene, about 20 minutes later.
The day after parent-teacher night, Bronx Guild had scheduled a Presentation of Learning Day. POLs, as they are called, take place once a quarter. On a POL Day, students formally present the projects they have been working on for the past quarter to panels comprised of 20-25 parents, students, and faculty. On April 8, school safety personnel denied entry to at least five Bronx Guild students who were scheduled to make their presentations at 10 a.m. The students arrived at school at approximately 9:15 a.m. At the entrance that Bronx Guild uses, in the back of the school, school safety personnel refused to allow them to enter the building, saying that Bronx Guild’s schedule did not coincide with Stevenson’s schedule that day. The students were told that they had to follow Stevenson’s schedule, not their own. They then went to the front entrance, where they are ordinarily allowed in after a call by school safety personnel to the Bronx Guild office. This morning, however, the school safety personnel at the front entrance would not call the office. Because they refused to allow the students into the building, the students missed the entire day of school. When the students did not show up to make their presentations, Bronx Guild called their homes to find out where they were. The students explained what had happened. The schedules of the students and teachers on the panel and of the parents who had come to school to sit on the panel were disrupted.
At about 8:15 on the morning of April 15, a Bronx Guild student arrived at school shortly before the start of classes. He was refused entry into the Stevenson building because he was carrying a basketball. Because Bronx Guild has very limited access to the two gymnasiums inside Stevenson, it runs its state-mandated physical education classes at a local community-based organization down the street, providing its own sports equipment. The student had brought the basketball to use in gym class. School safety personnel refused to let him into the Stevenson building with the basketball. After ten to fifteen minutes, the personnel confiscated and “vouchered” the basketball, and the student was forced to go to the dean’s office in order to retrieve it.
The problems embodied by these incidents are utterly unacceptable. Unless and until corrective action is taken by the Department of Education and the New York City Police Department, incidents such as these with school safety personnel will continue to occur and to negatively impact education. Procedures must be put in place to avoid such difficulties.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to meeting with you soon.
New York Civil Liberties Union
School Family Partnership
Bronx Guild High School
cc: Michael Best, General Counsel to Chancellor Klein
Eva Moskowitz, Chairperson, City Council Education Committee
Annabel Palma, City Council Member, 18th Council District
Adolfo Carrión, Jr., Bronx Borough President
Michael Soguero, Principal, Bronx Guild High School
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