As president of Local 237, which represents School Safety Agents (SSAs), I recently spoke at a hearing of the New York City Council’s Education Committee. The Committee is considering legislation that would transfer authority of SSAs from the NYPD to the Department of Education and greatly reduce their safety duties and programs, with some elected officials proposing to totally eliminate the safety agents from the schools altogether.
I stated: “Nine knives, four box cutters, three razors, a hair pick stabbing, two bomb threat evacuations.”
That was what SSAs faced ON JUST DAY 1 of school last year!
I also read the most recent number of major crimes in schools (288) and the number of petit larcenies (976). I noted that 2,701 weapons were confiscated in one year alone, between 2018 and 2019, and cited headline-shattering news including an 8-year-old bringing a loaded 380 caliber into a classroom, a vicious attack on a rival by four gang members and the fatal stabbing of a student by another with a steak knife.
“Parents, beware! Your children are NOT safe.”
Unbelievably, several Council Members argued that only social workers and guidance counselors are needed in schools. Misinformation was reported, such as the falsehood that SSAs carry weapons (they do not!), and insulting, degrading, demonizing portrayals of them were made. Council member Helen Rosenthal, for example, said the SSAs were part of a “paramilitary organization,” and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams testified—without ANY evidence at all—that “SSAs have committed verbal, physical and sexual abuse.”
I questioned the Council Members about how many of them have actually been inside public schools, or have children in public schools, where they would see, firsthand, that more than 70% of SSAs are Black and Latina, many of them mothers in a single-parent household, who work and live in the same community. Most tellingly were the words of Council Member Daneek Miller, who said that he had five children go through the public school system: “When you talk to children in my district, in my household, and in the community, and you talk about school safety agents, at the mention of that, there’s a glow.”
I told the Council Members that their arguments against SSAs are nothing more than “a knee-jerk, politically correct reaction that ultimately harms the very population they want to protect. It is phony.” I urged them to speak to the parents, hear what they have to say. We have. And we received letters and other expressions of appreciation that attest to how much SSAs make a difference in their children’s lives and sometimes the lives of others, a positive difference, and often a life-saving difference. The stories are many: Like the grateful Brooklyn mom of a third grader who was saved from choking by an SSA who performed the Heimlich maneuver, and came to the school to personally thank the agent for saving her little girl’s life. Or the victim of sexual abuse, who, crying hysterically, flagged down a van of agents on the way to their High School assignment, and begged for help. As the woman was tended to by an Agent, the perpetrator fled and was chased by the other agents, who apprehended and brought him to the Police Precinct, where he was charged.
And then there are the letters we received. One mother wrote: “My children go to public school and feel safe knowing that there is a safety officer there to protect them. The school safety officer at PS 13 knows every student’s name and every student looks forward to going to school and seeing the safety officer, who makes it a better day for the kids. Taking safety officers out of the school would be a huge mistake and only leaves room for disaster. I personally would not send my child to public school without a safety officer in the building. School is a better and safer place because of the school safety officers.”
Another said: “School Safety Agents are not just workers at a desk, they are part of the school community. School Safety Agents are the first faces the kids see when they enter the building and many times the last face they see as they leave. They are in the building in the early morning hours and most stay until late into the evening. They deserve to be appreciated, not berated. The school safety agent in my children’s school goes above and beyond what their job entails. Ms. Valentino is a safety agent who cares about the students in the building and knows each student by name. She even knows the parents. I know that, when I drop my children off to school, they are cared for and safe.”
And I ask the City Council directly: What are you trying to accomplish? Take out the politics and actually look at these agents who are doing their job.
One parent wrote about her daughter’s involvement with the Explorer program, mentored by School Safety Agents, a program which faces the chopping block: “My daughter has been an explorer at Post 2015 for the last two years. She had a very challenging year her first year of being an explorer with many medical issues. Agent David Perez along with others from Post 2015 always supported her, with phone calls and text messages to see how she was doing. They really become an extended family. Due to the pandemic, her Sweet 16 was cancelled. I put together a birthday drive-by. Agent David Perez, along with members of his post were thrilled to be there and surprise her on this special day. They also showed up with other school safety
officers to show their support to her. The school safety officers have always shown support to the children and their community. They provide a safe environment for the kids and the kids all enjoy the program. Elizabeth is beyond honored that she has the opportunity to be a part of this amazing program which has taught her so much and where she feels love.” And Elizabeth chimed in: “Two years ago I decided that I wanted to be an NYPD explorer and Post 2015 welcomed me with open arms and love. Later that year, I had several health issues. Besides the love and support from my family, I also received loads of love and support from Agent David Perez and the rest of the post with a number of phone calls and texts…this post has definitely become an extended family to me. They make me feel loved and protected. The school safety agents do an amazing job of making us kids feel loved and well protected.”
Despite such an outpouring of heartfelt support for SSAs, their fate hangs in the balance. And, within the next three weeks, the City Council will vote which will determine how safe 1 million public school students, teachers and other school personnel will be. As I said in my closing statement at the City Council hearing: “Any time there is a school shooting, our phones are flooded with frantic calls from elected officials, including calls from some of you. Everyone wants to know: Are our schools really safe? I know the answer. Think about it. Do you?”
Clearly, we must act now or live with the potentially disastrous consequences in the future. And consider this: the legislation would take effect in 2022. There will be a new mayor, two-thirds of the City Council will be new too, and students, who have not been to school for full-time, in-person learning, will return in full force. In view of all these factors, we urge everyone to sign Local 237’s petition demanding that the City Council and the mayor place the lives of 1 million school children and the livelihoods of 5,038 School Safety Agents above political pandering and a misguided reaction to the realities of the world we live in today. Over 2,000 people have already signed. Add your name to the petition to protect our children. Go to: www.local237.org
Gregory Floyd is president of Teamsters Local 237 and vice president at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.