Rally held in support of Student Safety Act

Dozens of students gathered at City Hall last Thursday to rally in support of the Student Safety Act, a citywide law that would mandate written reports from the city Department of Education and the New York Police Department on school discipline and police security. City Council proceeded to vote unanimously in favor of the bill on Monday. The bill must now be signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg, which he is expected to do in January, according to his spokesperson, Andrew Brent.

“Students under attack! What do we do, say no, fight back!” the citywide students chanted amid cold temperatures on the City Hall steps. Many of them are part of the Urban Youth Collaborative, an initiative that began campaigning for the passage of the bill nearly four years ago.

“Today, our hard work has paid off,” said Nazifa Mahbub, youth leader for Desis Rising Up and Moving, a core organization of the U.Y.C. “All too often, students are left in the dark and have no way of speaking out or taking action when our rights our violated.” Students have been exposed to mistrust and fear, she said, rather than to constructive learning and guidance.

Jaritza Geigel, the youth leader for Make the Road New York, said that students often end up on the jail rather than the college track, due in part to the punitive tactics of school safety agents. Passing this law, she said, will “bring transparency to how discipline and safety are really working in our schools.”

Jorel Moore, a youth leader for Future of Tomorrow, said the safety officers will no longer be able to mistreat students and get away with it. “As I student, I feel proud… that any adult who bullies [students], who are supposed to keep them safe, will no longer have anywhere to hide.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the bill strikes a good balance between enforcing safety and creating environments in which students feel safe. “This effort is so important, because students trust that when they’re in the care and supervision of their school that they’ll be safe,” she said. “In some ways, it’s the foundation of being able to get a good education.”

“[The law] is an important step towards establishing safety and discipline policies that treat all children fairly, with respect and dignity,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who also spoke at the rally. “It’ll shine much-needed light on the impact of heavy-handed policing and excessive reliance on suspensions of our children.”

She and the student speakers said the bill would serve as a stepping stone for improved school discipline policies and additional behavioral support for students. “The School Safety Act itself won’t change policies that have put so much school discipline into the hands of the police… we will continue to work on these reforms,” said Lieberman.

— Aline Reynolds