Updated: A Bronx student stabbed two classmates, killing a 15-year-old boy

PHOTO: YouTube/NYC Mayor's Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed reporters after the stabbing at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx in September.

An 18-year-old student stabbed two classmates after an argument erupted during class at a Bronx school Wednesday morning, killing one boy and seriously wounding another, officials said.

The victims — ages 15 and 16, who were both stabbed in the chest — were rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. The younger boy died on arrival, while the other boy is in critical condition, officials said. The alleged attacker is in police custody.

It was the first time one student killed another inside a city school in nearly 25 years, according to the mayor’s office. In 2014, a 14-year-old boy fatally stabbed another boy outside I.S. 117 in the Bronx.

The stabbing on Wednesday occurred about 10:45 a.m. at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, a grade 6-12 school in the West Farms section of the Bronx. The school shares a building with P.S. 67, which includes preschool to fifth grade.

“My heart goes out to the families who have been affected by this tragedy,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference in the Bronx Wednesday afternoon, where he was accompanied by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

“It has been many, many years in this city since we lost a child in a school in this kind of violent incident,” de Blasio added, “and it’s all the more troubling for that reason.”

The students had been arguing for the past few weeks, police officials said at the briefing. The argument escalated Wednesday, culminating with the attack about 30 minutes into a history class.

The attacker used a switchblade knife with a 3-inch blade that he brought into the school building, which does not have metal detectors. He walked into the hallway after the attack and encountered a guidance counselor, who asked him to hand over the knife. Then he waited in an assistant principal’s office until police arrived, officials said.

The city will send extra security officers to the school beginning tomorrow, where they will conduct random weapons screenings, de Blasio said. Officials said they would review whether the school should have permanent metal detectors, though de Blasio said the school has been “very safe” in the past.

The city sent letters home Wednesday with the roughly 1,100 students in the building, Fariña said. It will dispatch grief counselors to the school Thursday.

“This is a school we will be closely supporting in as many different ways as possible,” she said.

After the incident, parents raced to the school to check on their children. According to videos posted online, large crowds gathered outside the building entrances demanding to be let in, while police officers tried to calm them. Once they were allowed to pick up their children, some parents were emotional and called on the city to install metal detectors at the school, according to NY1 reporter Lindsey Christ.

Later in the day, de Blasio and Fariña met with staff and parent leaders at the school. In a school survey last year, 76 percent of students said they felt safe in their classrooms, compared to 91 percent of students citywide; 55 percent said they felt safe in the school’s hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms, and cafeteria, compared to 84 percent citywide.

Alex Zimmerman contributed reporting.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.