School/education (263650)
School/education Credit: Pixabay

This Sunday, Mona Davids of the New York City Parents Union, posted a photo of a pink gun that was allegedly confiscated by a school safety agent at I.S. 98 in the Bronx on Oct. 21. She thanked the agent involved and stated that “a possible shooting tragedy was avoided.”

Now, school safety agents are in front of the virtual gun with activists lumping them in with cops. But they themselves don’t carry guns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced many crises. How City Hall handles the public school system will be a major plus or minus for New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ tenure.

Here’s one of those crises. Former mayor Bill de Blasio’s desire to transfer control of school safety agents from the New York City Police Department to the Department of Education starting this year. He eventually backed off due to pressure from entities such as the United Federation of Teachers.

The DOE (then known as the Board of Education) originally transferred control of the school safety agents to the NYPD in 1998. However, safety agents don’t carry guns.

According to Teamsters Local 237, currently, there are approximately 2,000 fewer School Safety Agents than in recent years. The primary reason for this shortage, according to union officials, is due to the “previous group of NYC Council Members determining that as part of the ‘defund the police’ sentiments sweeping the nation, they would cancel the class of SSA trainees”—and advocated replacing them with social workers and guidance counselors.

“There were a number of school safety agents that retired,” said Floyd.

Floyd pointed out a recent incident at Susan Wagner High School in Staten Island where a student was pistol-whipped and said that this is the reason that school safety agents are needed. But there are some blurred
lines. School safety agents don’t carry guns. What could’ve been prevented?

While the safety agents train with the New York City Police Department, they stop the minute guns come into the picture, a spokesperson said.

According to police statistics, there are 17,519 civilian service members (MOS) in their ranks. As of Jan. 5, 48.4% of MOS’s are Black. Among School Safety Agents, going by rank and title, 71.23% are women. Among all women SSA’s, 69.97% of them are Black.

But agents have been trapped between their work and the so-called “defund the police” movement that ratcheted up since the death of George Floyd in 2020.

Davids wants school safety agents back where they belong. She said that the lack of school safety agents is a “disaster waiting to happen.”

“General criminal behavior spills over into the schools,” Davids said. But she also said that school safety agents are no different from traffic guards.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that there can be a balance of both issues: creating a safe environment while working on the issues at hand.

“There are a variety of paths the Department of Education should pursue to transition away from policing-based infrastructure in our public schools,” said Williams, in an emailed statement. “We must address the causes of violence in schools at their root through healing and community-centered schools with the right balance of prevention and accountability.”

Last year, Williams said during a city council hearing on public safety that “the NYPD currently assigns over 5,000 School Safety Agents and almost 200 uniformed NYPD Officers to New York City schools who are empowered to detain, arrest, and issue court summonses to students and are often the first point of contact when there is an issue.” He said that these actions help conduct a school-to-prison pipeline.

This year, Williams put the gloves back on for school safety agents.

“As always, the public advocate is committed to dialogue about how best to achieve this, and maintains School Safety Agents, who are predominantly Black and Brown women who care about our city’s children, must be respected and reflected in any just transition, with a model that protects the employment of thousands of New Yorkers.”

The AmNews contacted a principal to speak on this matter. They agreed but reneged on the interview after speaking with their superintendent.

Davids directed the AmNews to Quiann Simpkins, a school safety agent from East Flatbush. Simpkins, who works at a Coney Island school, wished people displayed more nuance when it came to the concept of law enforcement handing over the safety agents’ reins to the Department of Education after being swept up by ‘defund the police.’

“Most of our job description and details are geared toward children and those communities with respect,” said Simpkins. “You see the stories all around the country of officers getting aggressive with children. We don’t carry guns. We’re here to literally protect the kids and maybe act like a surrogate mother or father…more mother.

“The things that we do are to keep that school building, those school perimeters, those school grounds safe,” she continued. “That’s what our job is. To protect it, to keep it safe, and to make sure that that instruction is being able to be given, you know, freely and peacefully without anybody negatively impacting upon the educational process. We don’t criminalize children.”

But every now and then, school safety agents would align with the ones with the guns.

Late last year, a student was stabbed at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom School in the Bronx. Only two school safety agents were on duty at the time. School Safety, along with the cops, increased security at Fannie Lou and brought in portable scanning equipment.

The DOE praised school safety agents as vital to the community.

“School safety is the responsibility of every member of the community, and School Safety Agents are a crucial part of why our schools are safe,” said DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer. “From providing a friendly greeting at the school entrance to providing safe space for young people to learn, SSAs have a special role in so many of our school communities.”

During an early January visit to Concourse Village Elementary School, de Blasio praised safety agents—along with others—for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m so proud to stand here today, shoulder-to-shoulder with not only Mayor Adams, but every single educator, school leader, social worker, guidance counselor, food service employee, custodian, and school safety agents who come to school every day to serve our children, and we want to thank them very, very much,” said de Blasio.

“With school safety agents, their engagements don’t just end during school hours,” said Davids. “They participate in a ton of programs, join coat drives, give kids money for lunch if they don’t have any. These Black and Brown women are a critical part of our school community.”

Simpkins wanted the public to know that school safety agents aren’t the enemy.

“We don’t police the streets. We don’t police random citizens.”

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