Bronx Advocates Call for Alternatives to Arrests of Students Inside Public Schools (UPDATED)


This afternoon, parent advocates in the Bronx are organizing a march that will start at a transportation hub in the borough, move to a suspensions hearing center onward to an early care education site, and then to an elementary school and a middle school. The final destination of the rally is a juvenile justice center.

This, they say, is a reflection of the path that all too many Bronx youth take today — from school to prison.

A South Bronx group called the New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee is holding a rally today to shed light on some alarming statistics around the arrests that take place inside schools and to push the Dept. of Education to make policy changes that they say would better address behavioral problems and curb the rates of youth incarceration.

“Kids are being handcuffed and carded off to detention centers, and that is not right,” Joseph Ferdinand, a parent organizer with the group, told the Voice this morning. “They are just psychologically preparing our children for prison.”

Advocates, who have been rallying around this issue for months, argue that there is a “school-to-prison pipeline,” which is a cycle of youth struggling in school, without a lot of support, in a system that expects them and pushes them to ultimately end up in jail. This problem is especially widespread for minority and low-income students attending schools in areas like the South Bronx, the organization says.

And the stats they cite do paint a somewhat dismal picture.

During the 2010-2011 school year, there were 73,441 suspensions, and of those, 51.8 percent were black students, 36.9 percent were Latino, and 7.5 percent were white. Special education students accounted for 31.4 percent of that total. Just for frame of reference, out of the total Dept. of Education enrollment as of October, 2011, black students make up 29 percent of the population, and Latino students make up 40 percent.

In terms of arrests, in a three-month period last year, there were 279 arrests, which the group says is an average of more than five of day. Of those arrests, 74.9 percent were male, and 93.5 percent were black and Latino students. Nearly 20 percent were between the ages of 11 and 14.

Also worth noting, the Bronx has the highest rate of students being arrested and being issued summons (45.1 percent of students issued summons between October and December came from the Bronx).

“It’s really unfair the way our kids are being treated for minor infractions,” said Ferdinand, 59, who has three kids who attended public schools in the Bronx and have since graduated.

Today, at the “Education, Not Incarceration” march, the organization is releasing a set of demands to the Dept. of Education that center on providing more resources for alternatives to incarceration. They are calling for the funding and implementation of “positive discipline programs” like conflict resolution and peer mediation in Bronx schools and are also pushing the city to provide at least one guidance counselor for every 100 students along with a licensed, full-time social worker in each school. The advocates say they hope to see the number of suspensions and arrests cut in half by September 2013.

Police relations with the neighborhoods are very strained by these kinds of problems, Ferdinand said. “This is a borough that needs help…We have more police, more incarceration, more oppression…everything that is dehumanizing to us.”

We reached out to the Dept. of Education and will update if we hear back. When the Voice wrote about this issue earlier in the year based on a New York Civil Liberties Union study, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told us that these kinds of statistics are taken out of context, saying, “The NYCLU talks about arrests in schools but, conveniently, not crimes.”

“There were 801 felonies in the schools last year, compared to 1,577 in 2001 before the current administration took office. That 50 percent reduction in serious crime was made through the good work of dedicated School Safety Officers and Police Officers. Schools are kept safe by their ongoing efforts,” Browne wrote at the time.

The rally today will start at 149th St and 3rd Avenue, at the corner of Melrose Ave, at 4 p.m. and move to the Bronx Suspensions Hearing Center at 501 Courtlandt Ave. The march will stop at several schools along the way and then end at Horizon Juvenile Detention Center at 560 Brook Avenue.

UPDATE: A spokesperson from the DOE reached out to us and responded that crime has gone down. Part of her statement said:

Since 2001, major crime in schools is down by 49 percent and violent crime is down by more than 45 percent. Regarding suspensions, our latest data show a 20% drop in superintendent suspensions from July-December 2010 to the same time period in 2011. For the same period there was a 9.6% drop in overall suspensions. At the same time, we have increased our focus on supporting schools in building positive cultures and environments. We have placed an emphasis on prevention and conflict resolution. The Office of School and Youth Development supports schools and networks to implement approaches that help students learn and achieve in a respectful and safe learning community. The DOE offers conflict resolution training including peer mediation and we are offering training in using resotrative approaches to support schools.