#schoolsafety | De Blasio’s plan to let DOE run school safety will backfire: critics

Mayor de Blasio is gambling with the safety of New York school kids.

That’s the view of a growing number of teachers, parents and elected leaders after Hizzoner announced a plan last week to boot the NYPD from its role supervising school safety agents and hand that responsibility to the city Department of Education.

Those who remember when schools were plagued by gangs and lawlessness — before the police stepped in and overhauled the system in 1998 — fear a return to problems of the past.

Under the old Board of Education, some school safety officers were criminals themselves. One was a proud member of the Latin Kings who invited students to join the violent street gang.

Some see the looming change as a prelude to disaster.

“It’s something the DOE doesn’t do well — security,” said Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents the 5,035 school safety agents.

“They weren’t prepared for it 22 years ago. They’re not prepared for it now.”

de blasio doe school safety
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which oversees school safety agents.Matthew McDermott

“The DOE can barely manage to educate our children, let alone keep them safe,” said Mona Davids, president of the NYC Parents Union and the mom of a son in middle school.

Davids said the DOE has a poor track record of vetting workers such as school bus drivers, keeping hundreds disciplined for dangerous behavior — from taking photos up a child’s skirt to drinking booze behind the wheel — on the job, The Post found.

“We want the DOE in charge of security? Hell no,” Davids said.

The planned transfer, announced on Wednesday as protests against police brutality and racial injustice raged at City Hall, comes amid an alarming spike in the number of weapons confiscated at schools. They reached a a five-year high in 2018-19 with 1,699 knife seizures, according to the latest NYPD data.

Safety agents have seized loaded revolvers, 9mm handguns, meat cleavers and daggers from kids in schools, The Post reported.

In 2017, Bronx teen Abel Cedeno, 18, stabbed two fellow students in class— killing one — at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Preservation, now closed. Despite his claim that he was bullied over his sexuality, Cedeno was convicted of manslaughter.

That year the NYPD’s school safety division also tallied 143 sex offenses, including eight felony rapes and 751 assaults, including 122 felonies.

But suspensions are down under a DOE program aimed at easing disciplinary measures. Instead of summonses, safety agents hand out “warning cards” to students for marijuana possession and disorderly conduct.

In 1997, the year before the board voted 7-0 to turn school safety over to the NYPD, crime and violence were out of control.

Among the incidents: Three Manhattan teens forced a schoolmate to perform oral sex in a high school bathroom as part of a gang initiation; and a 15-year-old student was slashed on the head and neck while in a classroom, requiring 12 stitches.

Some perpetrators worked as safety officers.

They included Harry Roman, who dressed in the Latin King’s yellow and black colors to display his loyalty and flashed the gang’s hand signal.

Roman, a Latin Kings member for 27 years, carried a gravity knife — a street weapon in which the blade snaps open — and invited students to join the gang.

He wrote a love letter to a middle-school student, admitting he told her, “Be my woman, be my girlfriend.”

Roman wasn’t the only rotten apple.

School Safety Officer Harry Roman flashing the Latin Kings hand sign.
School Safety Officer Harry Roman flashing the Latin Kings hand sign.Susan May Tell

In 1995, a safety officer got busted for taking a loaded semiautomatic and a jagged-edged knife into a Manhattan elementary school. A Brooklyn officer was charged with first-degree rape of a 15-year-old high-school student he coaxed to his apartment.

After the NYPD took charge of school safety — a transfer of power long sought by Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the fierce objections of then-Chancellor Rudy Crew — the department began to hire, train and supervise the officers, who then numbered 3,200.

The city made “school safety agent” a civil service job requiring an exam, full background investigation, and 17 weeks of training. Physical agility was required for emergency response and rescues.

The officers are unarmed but can make arrests, issue summonses, search and seize, and apply handcuffs — powers opposed by youth advocacy groups who say disproportionately impact black and Hispanic kids.

Safety agents will remain NYPD employees this school year, said DOE spokesman Nathanial Styer. “The full transition will take two years.”

By then, de Blasio will be leaving office.

But  Council spokeswoman Jennifer Fermino called the timeline “unacceptable,” saying members will push for the switch to begin in November.

Proponents of the move feel deceived.

“It’s not a systemic shift. It’s a bait and switch,” said Jasmine Gripper, executive director of Alliance for Educational Quality, a group demanding “police-free schools.”

Youth advocacy groups say the DOE should hire more guidance counselors, social workers, and mental health specialists to tackle the roots of student misconduct.

doe school safety agents
An NYPD School Safety Agent vehicle at PS 91 in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn.Paul Martinka

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said he’ll set up a task force to study the transition and begin training school safety officers in “de-escalation, implicit bias, and restorative justice.”

DOE officials could not say where the added funding for such training will come amid severe budget cuts, a hiring freeze, and more resources needed to reopen schools..

A Manhattan teacher who also has a kid in the public schools called the plan “smoke and mirrors.”

“I had an extremely violent class. The idea of restorative justice does not work. That combined with the total relaxation of the discipline code from zero tolerance to tolerating everything will simply contribute to the deterioration of the NYC public schools.

“ As a parent, I fear for the safety of my child.”

Councilmember Robert Holden, D-Queens, voted against the budget plan.

“The last organization I would want in charge of school safety is the DOE,” he said. “They’ll fudge the crime numbers, just like they fudge graduation rates and grades.”

Jerry Cammarata, a Staten Island educator who sat on the Board of Ed in 1998, also panned the move.

“It’s a mistake on the mayor’s part to send security back to the DOE,”  Cammarata said. “The mayor acts in a knee-jerk fashion and puts the city into deeper peril.”


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