The Unacceptable Racial Disparities in School Discipline: Why We're Working to Create a Fair and Just New Model
On Monday, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) published a stunning analysis of new data made public through the Student Safety Act, which requires the New York City Police Department to issue quarterly reports on arrests, summonses, and other police-involved incidents in New York City public schools.
Among its findings, the NYCLU reports that 96.3% of school-based arrests were of Black and Latino students, compared to the actual composition of the schools which are 70% Black and Latino. Moreover, 99% of “child in crisis” incidents where handcuffs were used involved Black and Latino students. These incidents take place when children are displaying emotional distress and are subsequently taken to the hospital for evaluation. From our own work in schools, we’ve heard first-hand the challenging realities that children experience or witness, and the crisis they can cause. These moments should be met with understanding and compassion, not handcuffs.
NYCLU also highlights that 34% of all incidents involving Black or Latino students resulted in handcuffing. Though the data may not be fully surprising given all that we know about the incredible racial disparities in exclusionary school discipline, it is nonetheless still a shock to see such a stark picture of institutionalized racism in our schools.
It’s this very challenge that we’re working to address in our Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project. Through the 4-year undertaking, we’re hoping to create a new, racially just model for school discipline focused on repairing harm and building safe and respectful communities, rather than removing children from the classroom and pushing them into the criminal justice system. This is critical work that we’re spearheading with partners at the DOE and the Mayor’s Office, and it connects deeply to other outstanding youth justice efforts we’re funding through our Invest in Youth initiative, as well as our institutional commitment to racial justice.
As we think about allocation of resources, another compelling data point from the NYCLU is that there were 5,055 school safety agents and 191 armed police officers in New York City's public schools at the start of the 2008-09 school year. These numbers would make the NYPD's School Safety Division the fifth largest police force in the country. That same year, there were 3,152 guidance counselors in New York City schools.
Imagine what our schools would look like, if instead of metal detectors, school safety agents, and police officers, resources were directed toward more guidance counselors and healing practices such as yoga, meditation, and art.
We know that the school-to-prison pipeline is devastating our Black and Latino communities. These incidents of handcuffing, arrests—even suspensions—can serve as a child’s first brush with the criminal justice system, leading to a lifetime of involvement.
Youth of color should be safe within their schools, not subjected to the same harassment and fear that they face outside of the school walls. And adults in schools should be the trusted protectors and supports for our young people.
Many schools that serve students of color are asking to have metal detectors and police agents removed from their space. But more needs to be done. Restorative justice helps create the underlying conditions for building safe communities in schools, where students and adults share respectful relationships and understanding built around learning and development.
At Brooklyn Community Foundation, we believe that those who are closest to the challenge are also closest to the solution. This guiding principal permeated throughout our 2014 Brooklyn Insights process, informing how we could best work for a fair and just Brooklyn. It’s why we are committed to systems-level change centered on racial justice, and why we are committed to transforming schools to better serve students of color and help these students to be agents of positive change.
Students participating in our Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project are showing what it looks like to thrive in their schools, and they’re bringing the lessons of restorative justice to other communities including Oakland and Buffalo where they’re speaking about the transformative power of this work.
While this NYCLU data report underscores the outrage and injustice felt in our communities, we are proud to be investing in change.