NYC Public Advocate Releases Plan To Reimagine School Safety

March 1st, 2021

Press Release

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams released a report today detailing his proposals for reforming school safety and protecting students and school staff with a model centered on restorative justice, rather than over-policing and over-penalization. The plan comes just days after NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced his imminent resignation and replacement by Meisha Porter, currently the executive superintendent of the Bronx.

In the report, On Reimagining School Safety, the Public Advocate's office argues that New York City must work towards the goal of removing police infrastructure from its schools, including metal detectors and other invasive surveillance technology and the presence of law enforcement, except in the most extreme circumstances. This model would include the hiring of up to 3,500 social workers and guidance counselors over the next three years. Additionally, students must have access to a cost-free process to request that their schools expunge their disciplinary records once they have graduated from or left a school, as well as to petition the courts to expunge their juvenile criminal records. Discipline in school should be restorative, with a suspension moratorium in place, and education must be trauma-informed.

"The work to reimagine public safety in New York City extends from our streets to our schools. As we move forward with a new Chancellor, we need a new approach to reject overpolicing and the overly punitive, and centers restorative justice," said Public Advocate Williams. "Right now, school safety is largely centered on PPE, ventilation, and remote learning. As we recover from the pandemic, this report provides a roadmap for justice, equity, and safety in our schools."

While the implementation of this strategy will take time, the report argues, Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education should identify schools that are ready to replace their policing infrastructure and police presence with restorative justice and healing-centered frameworks to serve as pilot programs.

The report comes amid a contentious debate on the use of School Safety Agents in schools. Last year, the de Blasio administration committed to shifting school safety agents away from the NYPD over a period of years, but despite that promise, the administration is now reportedly considering hiring 475 new agents while continuing a hiring freeze on social workers.

Any plan to remove police infrastructure from schools must codify community involvement, including students, teachers, principals, other district staff, and community members. The recommendations highlight a number of community driven education initiatives which the city should invest in, including student success centers, community schools, culturally responsive education, arts programming, and college readiness. It also highlights the need for universal youth jobs. The full report is available here.

Of course, the current top threat to school safety is the COVID-19 pandemic. The reopening of New York City schools must be safe, equitable, and just for all students, families, and school staff. The Office of the Public Advocate has previously published a report outlining recommendations for reopening schools, and believes that stringent health standards must be met in order to more fully reopen school buildings.

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