Who watches over students in NYC’s Schools? As of now, unarmed school safety agents do the job. But a proposed New York State bill, which has already passed the Senate this June, would require armed NYPD officers to be present on both public and private school grounds during instructional hours, as well as an hour before and after.
It’s a big change. So we wondered what parents and teachers are thinking about it in neighborhoods across the city. The Brooklyn Ink zeroed in first on Bedford-Stuyvesant, at Boys and Girls High School.
From the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting five years ago, which left 27 students and school administrators dead, to the recent Lower Manhattan terror attack, in which a man drove a pickup truck through a bicycle path leaving eight dead and 11 injured in front of a high school, the question of how to properly reduce the vulnerability of students on school grounds is a big one. Drastic events like these, he says, led Democratic New York State Senator Simcha Felder to propose Senate Bill S6798.
In an article to the New York Post, Felder said this preventative measure must be implemented immediately.
“In the post-9/11 world, even schools are not safe from the threat of attacks against the safety and security of our children. New York’s Police Department have earned the title of some of the bravest and most dedicated public servants in the nation. Requiring an NYPD officer to be at every school in New York City during the instructional day, as well as before and after classes are in session, will ensure that students are more protected in the event that a threat or the need for law enforcement intervention arises in New York City schools.”
However, this bill is currently getting flak from those who believe such events could not have been prevented by armed personnel on school grounds. The Executive Director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, Donna Lieberman said in a statement:
“Stationing gun-toting police in schools is a recipe for disaster—with potentially deadly results. The Felder proposal invites the use of deadly force against students and promotes a hostile school climate instead of age-appropriate educational interventions. We need more accountability mechanisms to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, not more uses of force from police in schools.”
Throughout NYC, the NYPD places unarmed School Safety Agents in schools to protect and patrol school grounds. Although they aren’t armed and are not certified police officers, these agents are trained in the Police Academy for up to 17 weeks—covering topics that range from law and police science to behavioral science and physical training, according to the department website.
Their job is to be the security personnel within public and private schools. In some neighborhoods they are in charge of welcoming students every morning as they pass through metal scanners. In addition, when student fights erupt (or any other low-risk emergency situation), the agents also react. It is not clear whether or not the new bill would cause these agents to be replaced by the armed officers.
At Boys and Girls High School in Bed-Stuy, school safety agents sit and check in every visitor that comes in through the main doors. Cami Whittinghan, Assistant Principal for Safety and Security, said she feels safe in a school that is being protected by unarmed school safety agents. “Every morning, the students come in and they go through scanning. They drop their phones off and so on,” said Whittinghan. “The school safety agents handle it, which is why I feel safe.”
When asked if she would be comfortable with an armed officer being on school grounds, she said they would be welcomed but would have to follow the school’s chain of command. “I think if they were to come in the school there has to be some type of chain of command before they can interject in any fights or non emergency incidents occurring. They cannot come in and terrorize the students,” said Whittinghan. “School is not jail.”
When low-emergency situations, such as student fights, occur, school safety agents take charge, she said and then the administration. Police do get involved when the situation escalates to a degree where they are needed. If this bill passes, Whiitinghan said she wants a similar process to occur. She wants officers to only be there for extra security and for quick availability.
Chris Van Dyke is a parent in Bed-Stuy and has been a teacher for more than 15 years in the NYC public school system. He said that the schools already do enough to make them seem like prisons. Having armed officers in the building, he said, could only lead to escalating conflicts and the potential for an incident to end horrifically.
“I’ve broken up countless fights, restrained out-of-control 200-pound teenage men, and cleaned blood off my classroom floor, but I can’t think of one incident in over 15 years that I think it would have been better had there been a cop with a gun in the building,” said Van Dyke.
Rachel Selekman is another parent and resident of Bed-Stuy who says the city’s focus should be more on resources like school counselors and social workers instead of officers. She said that guns and police cannot get to the root of these issues, instead they need preventative measures.
“Guns are not the answer.” said Selekman. “It’s a thoughtless, easy approach to a complex problem.”
One more attempt
Sam Pirozzolo is the vice president of the NYC Parents Union. He said that in 2013, as president of Community Education Council, he helped lead the initiative to send a recommendation to urge the Department of Education to increase security measures on school grounds. According to Pirrozzolo, the letter was ridiculed by the current mayoral administration and never considered.
The recommendation highlighted security plans such as electrical buzzers to be installed in the school main doors and plain clothed retired NYPD officers to patrol the schools.
Pirozzolo said although his council’s recommendation was never accepted, he hopes the Senate Bill S6798 is. “When it comes to school safety and keeping our children safe, the actual buildings are put on a back burner,” said Pirozzolo.
The bill was passed by the senate on June 21, with 51 for and 11 against. Senator Velmanette Montgomery was one of those 11 and currently represents the Bed-Stuy district. She declined to comment to The Brooklyn Ink.
The bill is being discussed on the assembly side of the legislature in the Standing Committee on Education.