Student leaders and progressive activists rallied outside City Hall on Wednesday demanding that the city curtail a heavy presence of NYPD school safety agents in public schools and instead investing in more student-affirming services.
Advocates from Make The Road New York, the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC) and other community groups spoke out about their own experiences with heavily-policed public schools, while also urging Mayor Eric Adams to halt additional funding for in-school police and direct it to increase services like school guidance counselors, mental health advocates and social workers.
At least 200 participants from school districts across the Five Boroughs took part in the April 20 rally, including Councilmembers Sandy Nurse, Tiffany Caban and Kristin Richardson Jordan — each of whom voiced their support for moving policing out of the schools and instead prioritizing student wellbeing.
“My first day in school was very uncomfortable,” said Caroline Ramirez, a student and youth leader with UYC and Make the Road New York during the April 20 rally. “Police officers were the first staff I encountered in school. It was mind-blowing to me because after almost 18 months (of remote learning) I had to be greeted by police officers. That didn’t feel like school, that felt like prison. I was hoping for the first day to be different and instead of encountering cops, there would be teachers that would listen to me instead.”
But traditional police officers are not always assigned to school buildings. Most NYPD presence in the city’s public schools comes in the form of school safety agents.
Although they are not considered police officers, the NYPD school safety agents are entrusted, according to the city’s website, “to provide security and ensure the safety of students, faculty and visitors in the New York City Public School buildings and surrounding premises by patrolling and operating scanning equipment, verifying identity and escorting visitors and by challenging unauthorized personnel.”
UYC wants to remove funding from the NYPD’s School Policing Division, freezing new hires for in-school police and ending funding to new student surveillance technology. They instead called for investments of $120 million into restorative justice systems, $75 million to hire 500 new school counselors and another $75 million to hire 500 new school social workers.
For Brooklyn City Councilmember Alexa Aviles, the question comes down to ensuring that all public schools in all corners of the city are adequately funded.
“I am not only a representative but I am a mother of two public school students,” said Aviles.“I have said this before; the safest schools are the schools that have the most resources and that is a fact. And what New York City students have been asking for for decades is real resources that keep them safe, that give them the things that they need.”
Other speakers agreed that increasing resources in schools would exponentially benefit students, which could serve students to a point where conflicts or threats of violence no longer exist. Additionally, these resources would serve parents and teachers, leading to a community that could divest from policing all together.
The group of elected officials in attendance also signed a mock “budget”, indicating that they would advocate for these particular sets of demands when addressed in city council meetings.
“I know that this cadre of colleagues and many other colleagues are really excited and ready to support you in those demands,” said Nurse. “I believe that you should not have cops greeting you when you go to school. I believe you should have social workers – not only for you but for your teachers! You should have a guidance counselor, you should have the community school model where there are other activities and other services for your full family when you go to school.”
Additional advocates pointed out how the system of in-school policing disproportionately impacted and criminalized Black and Latinx youth.
“In NYC Black and Latinx youth make up 90% of all arrests, despite being only 66% of the student population,” said parent Cristine Ramirez. “I have two Puerto Rican children in district 9 in the Bronx, without police-free schools my children wouldn’t have to be terrified. How can I tell them that the system and that the police in their schools have been used to harm them as Black and Brown students more than to help them?”
However, individuals within the NYC DOE familiar with the demands of the students said that they were addressing concerns with school safety officers and had implemented direct support staff to assist students with their emotional and mental well-being.
“Our schools must be sanctuaries for our young people as they grow academically and socially, and our school staff work hand-in-hand every day with outstanding School Safety Agents to provide safe, supportive environments for every student,” said DOE Associate Press Secretary Jenna Lyle to amNew York. “That is why we’ve hired approximately 500 social workers and other direct support staff in response to their changing social emotional needs.”
Last updated 12:20 pm April 21, 2022