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How often do New York City schools bar parents from entering? The city could soon be forced to say.

Councilman Ritchie Torres
Councilman Ritchie Torres
Patrick Wall

The education department would be forced to disclose how often schools restrict parents from their campuses each year, under a bill that the New York City Council is considering.

The bill, which City Councilman Ritchie Torres introduced on Wednesday, would track a little-known practice that lawmakers say is ripe for abuse: the issuance of “limited-access letters.”

Those letters act like restraining orders and can restrict parents’ rights to enter their child’s school building. School officials can issue them when they feel that a parent poses a threat to the community.

But advocates worry the letters are used disproportionately in low-income communities, and they argue there are no clear guidelines or oversight that governs how they are handed out.

Education officials do not keep track of how often the letters are issued, nor could they produce an official policy that explains how school personnel should use them, despite multiple requests.

“You have parents who effectively have their access to a school restricted without any due process or judicial review,” Torres said. “The process of issuing limited access letters is shrouded in secrecy.”

The bill Torres introduced would require that the education department release annual reports that show how many limited access letters have been issued, as well as the demographics of families who receive them. The bill does not currently require the city to disclose how often individual schools bar parents from campus, though Torres said he planned to amend it to include that information.

The proposed law would also force the education department to publicly post its policies on limited access letters, including how parents can appeal them. (A department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether there is currently an appeals process.)

Stephanie Thompson, who is a member of the elected parent council for Manhattan’s District 1, told DNAinfo in 2016 that she has received limited access letters for complaining about a principal and criticizing a superintendent. “When you say stuff as a white man, you’re seen as expressing yourself,” she said. “You’re passionate. You’re smart and challenging. Whenever I do anything, I’m seen as an angry black woman and aggressive.”

Torres said he hopes the legislation will encourage school officials to limit the use of limited access letters. “I’m convinced that the DOE is going to be more parsimonious in the use of these letters under the light of public accountability,” he said.

In a statement, education department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said: “We have protocols in place to ensure we are providing safe learning environments for all students and staff, and this includes the issuance of limited access letters when necessary.”

She added that the letters “do not prohibit parents from accessing their child’s school” but that parents “must follow certain protocols and procedures that are outlined out in the letter.” She would not elaborate on exactly how the letters are used. The education department, Barbot added, is reviewing Torres’ bill.

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