Why Safety Incidents Are Increasing in New York City Schools | #schoolsaftey

New York City schools are grappling with a spike in discipline problems among children, evidence that the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic are having lingering effects, educators and experts say.

Most of the misconduct involves lower-level disturbances that educators and advocates say show that many students are still having a hard time emotionally after the stress of the pandemic.

Despite a handful of high-profile episodes — at least two students were slashed at Port Richmond High School in Staten Island this week, for example — student arrests account for a small percentage of discipline incidents, according to the Police Department.

Luis A. Rodriguez, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at New York University, said the increase was not necessarily surprising, given the isolation and stress students and their families experienced during the pandemic.

“Schools have had to reckon with the impact Covid has had on socializing,” he said.

At the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan, Rosa Isabel Chavez, a fashion design teacher, said that when schools reopened, students came back lacking “a high-school-level mentality.”

They were very much still childlike,” she said. “We had freshmen still holding hands, the way little children do in elementary school, which was adorable, but still scary.”

There were also fights, she added, because students thought “the response was to hit instead of talking things out.”

Last school year, there were 14,048 school safety incidents, according to Police Department data. In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 11,504. The increase comes amid debate over how schools should respond to discipline problems.

In recent years, both the police and the Education Department have sought to reduce how often officers respond to low-level offenses like disorderly conduct. Police Department data shows that when uniformed officers and school safety agents do respond, they are now more likely to send students back to their schools for discipline instead of arresting them or issuing a summons.

Jenna Lyle, an Education Department spokeswoman, said schools should be “safe havens for our children,” adding that schools have the tools to “address any issues in a positive, supportive, and less punitive manner. ”

Still, the number of times students were suspended or removed from class rose last year, to 36,992 from 31,738 the year before, though it remains below prepandemic levels.

“Most discipline incidences are not serious,” said Madeline Borrelli, a special-education teacher and member of Teachers Unite, an organization focused on ending “the school-to-prison pipeline.”

She said schools with fewer resources, where teachers may be overwhelmed, may be relying on suspensions or calling in school safety agents “to respond to normal child behavior.”

Rohini Singh, director of the School Justice Project at Advocates for Children of New York, which has called for school safety reforms, said law enforcement still has an “outsize role” in school discipline.

And racial disparities remain. Black pupils make up a quarter of the city’s public school population, but 40 percent of suspensions or classroom removals. Black students were involved in more than half of incidents in which the police intervened.

Broadly, serious incidents at schools — like assault and burglary — have stayed relatively low compared to the late 2010s, according to the mayor’s office, but some recent incidents have been violent.

In February, two students were stabbed at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens; a 14-year-old boy was slashed outside M.S. 246 in Brooklyn; and a 12-year-old girl was stabbed inside Pathways College Preparatory School in Queens, according to the Police Department.

This month, an 8-year-old was found with a gun at his Brooklyn elementary school, though it was not loaded and no one was hurt, the police said.

David C. Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said gang activity appeared to be up, and that “some of that has to do with adolescent alienation we are seeing more generally.”

The rise in disciplinary problems in schools has been unsettling for students and parents.

In December, a student was stabbed at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, prompting a lockdown. Fumbi Joseph Vilme, a freshman, said he stayed in the piano room for several hours. He said he wished there were metal detectors, “because you are kind of supposed to feel safe in school.”

His father, Marvin Vilme, who also attended the school, said he was shocked and has since considered home-schooling his son.

But Sumarha Tariq, who attended the High School of Fashion Industries, is one of the students who may have benefited from efforts to reduce police involvement in disciplinary issues.

In 2022, after she was found with pepper spray in her backpack, which is illegal for minors, a safety agent referred her case back to the school.

A school counselor issued a warning, but not a suspension, after Ms. Tariq wrote a statement explaining that she carried the spray because she had faced harassment on her commute. She made it through the rest of high school without problems, graduated and is now a freshman at Yale University.

It was, Ms. Tariq said, “the best scenario.”

Hurubie Meko contributed reporting. Benjamin Steiger contributed research.

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