Bloomberg's Schools: Is This America?

The handcuffing of a seven-year-old suggests that something is very wrong in New York City

For the future of this and any city—and its children—reporting inside the schools can be journalism’s most important beat. Among New York’s daily newspapers, Meredith Kolodner of the Daily News keeps setting the standard for digging deep into the dark side of the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott school system.

From her “Sacrificed for Charters” (March 31, 2010), did you know: “Special Education students are falling victim to the fierce battle to find space for charter schools inside city school buildings. . . . At eight of the 15 buildings making room next year (2011), at least a quarter of the students are special education or seriously disabled. . . . For these vulnerable kids, the space crunch may mean less one-on-one instruction, therapy sessions in the back of the classroom, and cramped conditions for wheelchair-bound students, nearly two dozen parents said in interviews.”

What say you, Chancellor Walcott?

This past March 30, Kolodner reported in “More Homeless Kids Put Schools to Test”: “At Middle School 349 (Washington Heights), where more than a third of the students are homeless, budget cuts have trimmed after-school programs to a couple of days a week. . . . Homeless kids have to go to the local library and wait for one of six computers to open up so they can do homework.”

And, at P.S.128 up the road: “ ‘Their homework is lacking because they have no space and no quiet time outside of school,’ said Marie Andino, a math coach. ‘We see it in the classroom when they’re falling asleep.’ ”

If our Education Mayor came by, at least they’d be awakened for a photo op.

Around the country, as I’m continually discovering, more teachers and even some school systems know damn well that collective standardized tests (and the constant testing for them) tell you nothing about what individual kids are actually learning.

But in our decaying New York school system, Kolodner reported on May 3: “Children in third grade through eighth grade have been practicing for weeks—sometimes months—for the state reading and math exams in a bid to boost scores that plunged last year”—after it was shockingly revealed how phony the previous official test scores were.

Kolodner quoted parent activist, Eric Perez: “They’re pushing the children, but not in the way that’s conducive for their learning.”

Chancellor Walcott, with all the steep budget cuts in schools here and around the country, educate yourself by reading Marion Brady’s “A Not-So-Modest Proposal” (Washington Post, April 24): “There’s one multi-billion dollar cost of educating that’s not scheduled to be cut—high-stakes, standardized testing. In fact, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, says that the number of such tests is going to significantly increase” (emphasis added).

Put yourself in the history books, Chancellor Walcott, and cut way down on standardized tests in this city—no matter what the Education Mayor says—and start insisting that the focus of each teacher and principal be on each individual child.

And pay attention to this, Chancellor: Credit the Daily News for this headline on April 21 on Kolodner’s report: “They gotta be kidding! Crying Qns. 7-yr-old cuffed by cops at school.”

Special-ed first-grader Joseph Anderson—who has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder—was getting very emotionally upset as he had trouble decorating an Easter egg. The school called his mother, who said she’d be right over, but then called the cops, who beat her to it. They put the seven-year-old in metal cuffs.

Ever since Joseph became educated about this city’s cops, his mother reports, he has been throwing up and, she says, “If he hears an ambulance, he runs under the bed and screams, ‘They’re going to get me!’ ”

His mother does not let him watch the news anymore “because if he sees cops, he cries.”

What say you, Commissioner Ray Kelly? Does this dangerous kid belong to the New York Civil Liberties Union?

Now, the indignant seven-year-old says: “I want those cops to say sorry to me and the principal for calling the ambulance and handcuffing me” (Kolodner’s “Once in a While We Do Cuff the Kids,” Daily News, April 22).

In that story, Chancellor Walcott says he will look into the incident. (I guess he doesn’t read the tabloids which, far more than the New York Times, tells us about school invasions by Ray Kelly’s cops.)

Walcott also says, referring to what happened to this seven-year-old: “There are occasions when [cuffing] needs to be done, and I think it’s the responsibility of the principal and school safety to work together to make that determination.”

After all these years as Bloomberg’s Deputy Mayor for Education, doesn’t he know that the School Safety Agents (trained by the NYPD and with the power to arrest) do most of the cuffing of school kids—disproportionately black and Latino ones? These enforcers are not responsible to principals or the Department of Education.

When a parent rushes to find a youngster being cuffed and held at a precinct, he or she doesn’t stop first at the principal’s office—or the chancellor’s. Has Walcott ever objected to this? I haven’t any evidence that shows that he doesn’t approve of our Education Police Commissioner suspending kids and their due process rights. There’s not a peep out of Bloomberg.

This chancellor, supposedly infinitely more qualified for this job than the hapless Cathie Black, got a response he deserves from this terrified seven-year-old’s mother. Said Jessica Anderson: “He was crying and saying, ‘I want Mommy.’ Why handcuff him? Why get the cops involved? He’s only seven. . . .”

When she finally got to see her son and found he was in handcuffs, “I was crying,” she said. “I broke down. They know that my son is special ed. It’s like trying to get rid of him, and it worked because I’m not sending him back there.”

What did the NYPD have to say? “He was acting in a threatening manner. He was a danger to himself and others in the classroom. He started spitting and cursing at the officers. The handcuffs were used to restrain the child because of his behavior. He was a danger to himself.”

Having reported often in the Voice on a considerable number of cases in which the School Safety Agents not only cuffed but beat young kids—though witnesses said they weren’t threatening anybody—I am, to say the least, skeptical of this police defense of their putting these kids in a perp walk through the school.

Joseph’s mother was later told by a spokesperson for the school that her son, scared, did jump up on a table, shouting, “I just want my mommy!”

In this report, Kolodner quoted Kim Sweet of this city’s Advocates for Children: “I’ve seen far too many cases of kids this young handcuffed and thrown into ambulances for behavior at school. Just imagine being a little kid and having people come, clamp your hands behind your back, and throw you in an ambulance.”

Hey, Mayor Mike, can you imagine this? Give it a try. Let us know how it felt, even in imagination. And I would be grateful for any detailed, documented accounts of other school kids being handcuffed. Parents and appalled teachers (there are a good many) can write to me at the Voice.

I got to know well a Supreme Court Justice, William Brennan, who was attentive to official abuse of students in our schools. In Doe v. Renfrow (1981), 13-year-old Diane Doe (not her real last name because she was a minor) had been strip-searched during a dragnet police search for drugs in her school. No student was under particular suspicion. This was a general warrantless search, like British officers so often did when we were colonists.

Before she was strip-searched, police-trained German shepherds had pushed their noses and muzzles into Diane’s legs. No drugs were found on her by them or when she was strip-searched. This is still going on at some schools in this alleged constitutional republic.

Diane’s case was thrown out by a district judge and then dismissed by the Supreme Court. Brennan dissented, telling me, “I was really mad.”

He called what happened to Diane “a violation of human decency.” Thinking of what seven-year-old Joe Mitchell learned about human decency in New York City’s public schools, I remembered what Justice Brennan warned after Diane’s experience: “Schools cannot expect students to learn the lessons of good citizenship when the school authorities themselves disregard the fundamental principles underpinning our constitutional freedoms.”

If we ever have real-life classes in civics in this city’s schools, Chancellor Walcott should come in and show the students the basis for how handcuffing seven-year-olds (a five-year-old has also been handcuffed) can be found in our Constitution. My next monthly column: The Brennan Center for Justice’s report card on New York’s civic literacy. It’s not only about Ray Kelly’s educators in our schools, and some of you adults may be embarrassed.

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6 comments
pattiofurniture
pattiofurniture

Think about it Nat. You state, "at least a quarter of the students are special education or seriously disabled." Do you really believe that 25% of the school age population qualify for the short bus? Are actually saying that one quarter of the school age population is disabled in some way? That makes for good political theater, but the truth lies in the definition of special ed these days. The Clintoons, with Hillary leading the charge, widely expanded the definition of special education. It became a legal protection devise for a small population of disruptive school kids that 1). gave the school districts an incentive for labeling because they got more state/fed money: 2). diluted the funding for the special educational services for the physically handicapped children. Check the records and you will see that the population of sp. ed. kids grew exponentially under this new definition. In the past, disruptive, behavioral problem kids were treated in an entirely different manner. Kids were removed from the classrooms and put into alternative classrooms, special programs for socially disruptive...etc. Now they are considered "special ed" and are afforded all of the legal protections that a blind, deaf, mentally retarded, physically handicapped kid gets under federal law. That is to say, they can't be removed from a classroom without a hearing and a long due process of red tape which discourages any and all administrators. The tests that the kids take are taking now are NOT "Achievement tests" that you and I took..... that diagnosed our math and grammar difficulties using objective questions based on norm references. They are "assessment" tests that only tell how well the kids are meeting the state standards... which are goalposts that are moved yearly. Parents don't have to participate in my state (PA)... I opted all my kids out of state assessment tests and had the tested myself on a norm referenced tests that showed their strengths and weaknesses... Ask any parent if they have ever received a report on a state assessment and if any college or trade school requires them for admittance????

unfinishedscript
unfinishedscript

This looks like one to pay attention to. I'll check back. Anyone interested in this topic can see the NAACP's paper on The-School-To-Prison-Pipeline, NCLB plays right into it... this isn't made up stuff:

http://unfinishedscript.wordpr...

Marty_Richman
Marty_Richman

Get the cameras - if you have cameras it will protect everyone and add some restraint to those exercising police powers. After all, these are 'public places' and confrontations with police are 'public events' and children need protection - but so does the staff and their classmates.

It is terrible if an innocent or young child is abused by police or security agents, but it is also terrible if a student is either a danger to themselves, someone else, or makes it simply impossible for others to get an education.

Get the cameras, tell the parents they are there, and use them.

ChestertonBurke
ChestertonBurke

I think it's generally bad for schools to be serving as psychiatric wards and detention centers and certainly these abuses are awful, but the collapse of the nuclear family has left kids without the sustained parental attention they need. The resulting mental health problems overburden the public facilities. Feminism is part of the problem, since the influx of women into the workplace drives down wages for men and then both parents have to work whether they want to or not. Just as deficit spending in bad times should be offset by retaining a surplus in good times, the entry of women into the workplace should be offset by men spending more time at home with the kids. But it hasn't worked out that way, in both cases.

unfinishedscript
unfinishedscript

This is changing... and feminism is in no way to blame, if anything it has helped to alleviate some of the persistant social ills that have plagued families for generations. by giving woman a choice of how to raise their children and live their lives, it has given them the options desperately needed in order to escape abusive and mentally exhaustive relationships with men, and find new, better ones, with whomever they choose... or none at all. Mental illness can definitely be passed on generationally and we've been expected to watch this happen to our children because we HAVE to marry to get by? Feminism has freed generations of women from this sort of oppression. Men are just having a hard time catching up because they've been in such a permissive environment for so long and women are running ahead since generations of them have had to fight for every human right that they've gained or improved upon. We have a long way to go in integrating this progress into society though.

Children suffer not only from the mistakes of their parents but the mistakes of the collective society they live in. When we eat away at the things that help to raise the lowest standards, than the lowest we can go can look pretty scary to people who think human nature is a moral choice unbound by environmental factors. No one operates independant of their environment, so moral decisions can't be viewed without them. In some cases it is more moral to accept a lower standard of living with more precarious conditions than to accept an oppressive and unhealthy/ abusive situation...

Doug-g
Doug-g

Can you provide your sources for this piece of your article?

"After all these years as Bloomberg’s Deputy Mayor for Education, doesn’t he know that the School Safety Agents (trained by the NYPD and with the power to arrest) do most of the cuffing of school kids—disproportionately black and Latino ones?"

 
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