NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks with a school safety officer Credit: Ariama Long photo

NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks kicked off the semester last week by announcing a comprehensive plan to “reimagine school culture and student safety.” 

“When a parent kisses their child goodbye in the morning, they trust that their child will be both emotionally and physically safe at school,” he said. “This administration is prioritizing the reimagining of our commitment to supporting the whole child from the day they enter our schools to the day they graduate.”

Part of such a reimagination involves the hiring of roughly 850 NYPD school safety agents. Critics grade the Department of Education’s move an F, saying more officers on campus adversely affect students of color. Monifa Bandele, senior vice president and chief strategy officer of grassroots nonprofit MomsRising, says such a move opens the door for further racial profiling against Black students like her daughter.

“Children thrive in schools that have really great systems of care,” she said. “Whether there’s an abundance of school nurses, guidance counselors or social workers—trauma informed adults, those are the types of things that make schools very healthy and safe for children. It’s just a really wrong direction that we see our schools going in to become militarized, because we know it increases anxiety, and it makes it a very toxic place to learn.”

With the Uvalde shooting serving as a key concern for student safety nationwide, Bandele also mentions police inaction during the tragedy is a reason for fewer cops in schools, not more.

“You’re called school safety agents, but you’re not giving the school safety,” said Jolie S., a high school junior from Brooklyn. “You’re a school cop. You’re policing us, you’re surveilling us. You’re watching our every move. At times, it does feel like jail.”

The youngster, who serves as a youth leader with the Urban Youth Collaborative and Make the Road NY, says students of color like herself are often overlooked in conversations about school safety. 

“They block us out from everything, and they also say that we are the next generation,” she said. “But at the same time, you’re not listening to the next generation, how are you supposed to help us and help us grow? The chancellor’s announcement just aggravated me because he said that school police keep us safe. At the same time, look at Uvalde, the school police didn’t do anything, stood there and [waited] for backup.”

Beyond the controversial addition of school safety agents, the plan will also enlist community-based organizations with proven backgrounds in youth support and violence disruption to participate in a new initiative called Project Pivot. Roughly 110 social workers will be redeployed closer to schools. And 1,300 issues with school alarms, locks and PA systems were identified by the Division of School Facilities during the summer and are currently being addressed.

Bandele says the best solutions for student safety are in resources like more psychologists and counselors. And retaining teachers. She wants to ask the proponents of more school safety officers a simple question:

“Look at the safest communities in the country, do they have the most police?” said Bandele. “People start blinking. The safest communities in New York City? Do you see police on every corner? And then you ask them, so what is in that community that keeps it safe? They’re not inundated with armed police officers.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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