Schools should be places where children are treated as students and given the tools to learn, but too often, our school discipline system treats them as criminals instead.
For years, we’ve seen the problems of having too many police officers in our schools rather than guidance counselors and other support staff. Now there’s a new proposal that would make the problem worse, and it must be stopped.
The New York City Council is currently considering a bill, Intro 65, that would require the NYPD’s School Safety Division to place at least one school safety agent in any public or nonpublic school that requests one. This bill attempts to create safer schools, but it would only create a false perception of security. In so doing, it would significantly set back years of progress toward dismantling New York City’s school-to-prison pipeline and drain our public education system of anywhere from $50 million to $200 million.
The New York State Department of Education recognizes 880 nonpublic schools. If Intro 65 were passed, all 880 of them would be eligible to request a school safety agent. The School Safety Division already employs 5,425 combined school police officers and school safety agents at an annual cost of $328 million to the Department of Education. When we include the costs of metal detectors and equipment, suspension hearing sites and Alternative Learning Centers, the New York City Department of Education is spending close to $400 million on “school safety needs.” Passing Intro 65 would bring us closer to seeing half a billion dollars pass from the Department of Education to the NYPD—that is, to treat children as criminals rather than students.
Supporters of the bill claim it’s necessary to provide private schools with a school safety agent to ensure the safety of the children and staff in the school, but Assistant Chief Brian Conroy of the NYPD’s School Safety Division has testified that the NYPD is fully capable of deploying its resources in a swift and effective manner if and when a problem arises at a private school without needing to employ a school safety agent in those schools. He further explained that, if passed, Intro 65 would hinder the School Safety Division’s ability to determine how to deploy staffing resources.
The NYPD’s School Safety Division would already be the fifth largest municipal police force in the country. We employ 1,500 more school safety agents and school police officers than guidance counselors and social workers combined.
Simply put, there is no need to hire any more school safety agents. Our greatest need is to provide funding for restorative justice programs and increasing the number of guidance counselors and social workers to close the discipline gap so we can finally begin to close the opportunity gap in our education system. Let’s say no to Intro 65 and instead focus on treating our children like the students they are.
Kesi Foster is an Urban Youth Collaborative coordinator.