Last Year Safest Ever for Schools, Says NYC Police Commissioner

(Photo: Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

(Photo: Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton appeared with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to announce that the 2015-2016 school year was the safest ever recorded for NYC public schools. Bratton's last day as commissioner was Friday.

This declaration was a way to draw attention to the Education Department's attempt to change its discipline policy. The announcement was made at the Leadership and Public Service High School in Lower Manhattan, where student suspensions were lowered by 70% since the 2012-2013 academic year. The reduction was due to the new approach which is known as "restorative justice" and is centered on discussing issues rather than punishing the perpetrator.

Kate Taylor of The New York Times says that Fariña has been a proponent of this method and wants the model to be used for the whole public school system. Using this approach may be a way to reduce suspensions and arrests in public schools.

Bratton continued by revealing that the 2015-2016 school year was the safest in the city since 1998, which is the year that the Police Department began following data on significant crimes such as rape, felony assault, grand larceny, robbery, and burglary in schools in the district.

The number of crimes last year was 532, a 13% decrease from the year before and a 35% decrease from the 2011-2012 school year, according to the commanding officer of the school safety division, Assistant Chief Brian J. Conroy.

But confiscated weapons in the cities public schools have increased in the last two years from 1,347 in 2013-2014 to 2,053 this past academic year.

Families for Excellent Schools (FES), a charter school advocacy group, sent out an email within hours of the announcement asking Bratton how he could say NYC schools are safer when the number of weapons recovered as evidence has increased.

In April, FES along with several families with children in public schools, sued the New York City Education Department in federal court for depriving students of their rights to schools that are free from bullying and violence. The lawsuit pointed to state information that showed a 23% uptick in violent events in NYC schools from the 2013-2014 school year to the 2014-2015 academic year.

The Board of Regents proposed changes on Monday to restrict the types of violence that get reported to the state so that there is more clarity in the communication. In August, the state advised that the number of schools that were branded "persistently dangerous" had dropped to only four from the 27 school designees reported a year ago.

New York City schools are investing $47 million in "school climate initiatives" so that policies that set up black and Hispanic youth to fall into the prison pipeline will be eliminated, writes Amy Zimmer for DNAInfo.

"The foundational piece [of restorative justice] is building relationships. When there is damage done to relationships, how do you restore that?" said Philip Santos, the principal at Leadership and Public Service, which has seen a 63 percent drop in suspensions and 51 percent drop in incidents over the past three years. "You can feel the difference in our community as you walk though the hallways."

"Use your restorative justice practices and cool down. Use your words because you have words for a reason. If you're yelling at someone, it will just cause them to shut down. So, speak politely," said Tuson Irvan, a senior.

Fariña pointed out that changing the climate of NYC's public schools will not be an easy task and that it will require professional development for teachers and a time commitment during the school day for students. But some teachers are worried that not being able to suspend students who are out of control takes away a significant amount of their authority at those times when they feel a suspension is deserved and necessary.

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