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NYC education panel calls for ending NYPD school safety oversight

A member of the New York Police Department visits a classroom at Queens Explorers Elementary School.

The Panel for Educational Policy voted on a largely symbolic resolution to transfer responsibility for school safety officers from the New York Police Department to the education department.

New York City’s education oversight board is the latest to call for public schools, not the police, to manage the officers stationed on city campuses. 

During a virtual meeting Thursday, Panel for Educational Policy members approved a recommendation to transfer responsibility for the 5,100-member force to the city’s education department. The mostly symbolic vote is noteworthy because it puts the board, largely seen as a rubber stamp for Mayor Bill de Blasio, at odds with his position.

De Blasio, who appoints a majority of members to the panel and is ultimately in charge of education policy in the city, has said he favors reforms to the school safety division rather than changing who is in charge.

“Now is the time for us to take a stand,” said panel member Geneal Chacon. “We’re speaking up.”

The panel does not have the power to change who controls school safety. But the public stand comes as other school districts across the country reconsider their relationships with police following the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died last month under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis. 

“It should not have taken an uprising to draft this resolution,” said member Kathy Park Price. “But the reality is that it does take an uprising to dismantle the status quo. I’m proud.”

The panel’s resolution called for ending the current agreement that governs police interactions in New York City’s schools, and for the city’s schools Chancellor Richard Carranza to begin working with students, families, and educators to recommend ways to create “safe and nurturing learning experiences.”

Dozens of students and educators spoke for hours in support of reforming policing in schools, with many pushing for the city to go even farther than the panel’s recommendations. A group of students called into the virtual meeting from outside of Carranza’s home, where they rallied for deeper structural changes including greater investments in school budgets, rather than cops. Carranza was attending a funeral and was not present at the meeting.

“We demand police-free schools!” one student shouted to the assembled crowd. 

“We’re not criminals. We’re students!” a recent high school graduate added.

Corey Johnson, the City Council Speaker, immediately tweeted in support of the vote.

Students at predominantly Black schools are less likely to believe school police foster a safe and respectful environment, though large majorities of students, parents, and teachers hold more positive views on average, a Chalkbeat analysis of school survey data found.

School safety agents are generally stationed in every school and are unarmed. Responsibility for the agents was transferred from the education department to the police department in the late 1990s under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

Civil rights groups and other advocates have long raised concerns about the role of police in schools, arguing that they criminalize misbehavior, especially among Black and Hispanic students. In 2019, 90% of arrests and 93% of summonses issued in schools went to Black and Latino students. Citywide, those students represent 66% of city public school enrollment.

Alex Zimmerman contributed.

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