NYCLU announces settlement in school discipline case

The NYCLU settled the case on behalf of students who were punched and verbally abused.

The New York Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement Thursday on behalf of six New York public school students who were punched, thrown, handcuffed, verbally abused and arrested at school by the NYPD School Safety Division.

Under the settlement, four of the plaintiffs will share a total of $54,000 in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $24,000. The city also agreed to leave reforms to a leadership team that has already recommended development of “a clear mission statement on student discipline that embraces positive supports” with a strategy to implement it, improved staff training of staff, policies to promote de-escalation of disciplinary incidents and more support for schools with the highest numbers of suspension, arrests, and summonses.

Originally filed in 2010 and amended in 2013, the suit accused NYC of repeatedly violating students civil rights through wrongful arrests and the use of excessive force, and sought systemwide reforms. Members of the more than 5,000 unarmed NYPD School Safety Officers squad and the 191 staff of armed police officers seized and arrested students with little provocation or detained, arrested and abused them for minor infractions, according to the lawsuit.

“We are pleased with this settlement, which recognizes the remarkable work the City has done to further the safety and dignity of students, including implementing aggressive reforms and improvements in the area of school safety and discipline,” NYC Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci, said in a statement.

“Aggressive policing in schools victimizes our city’s most vulnerable children and hurts all students by creating an environment of fear instead of learning and support,” said NYCLU Executive director Donna Lieberman, who is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline.

The lead plaintiff, Destiny Bruno, was 14 years old when she was punched about seven times in the head placed in a headlock by a school safety officer at W.H. Maxwell High School in East New York, handcuffed, arrested and then detained overnight in a juvenile detention center, according to the NYCLU..

Bruno said the experience left her uncomfortable in school and changed her outlook regarding police officers. “I hope that things get better in schools and the police stop being so violent,” she said.

Last month, Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed legislation requiring reports on the use of handcuffs, metal detectors and enforcement actions by NYPD officers not part of the School Safety Division.

Sheila Anne Feeney