The Bronx School Justice coalition was borne following a series of public mobilizations in the South Bronx last year protesting the high rates of Bronx school arrests, summonses, and suspensions. The New Settlement Parent Action Committee coordinated these public actions in conjunction with local student organizations and advocacy groups. After holding a People’s Hearing on School Justice in the Bronx last June, officials from the DOE and NYPD agreed to meet with community members monthly to develop strategies to reduce school policing and increase positive disciplinary supports in schools.
Since last June, sizeable reductions in school policing have been experienced in the Bronx. There were 4,163 fewer suspensions in the borough, a decline of nearly 24 percent when compared to the 2011-2012 school year. School arrests in the Bronx were cut by more than half, with a total decline of 56 percent, and summonses issued to Bronx students to appear in court also went down by 49.4 percent. These declines follow increased trainings of Bronx school staff and NYPD School Safety Agents in positive disciplinary alternatives, including workshops for over 630 School Safety Agents that were facilitated by students and parents, with the support of local advocacy organizations, The Children’s Defense Fund and The Bronx Defenders.
Though the declines in school arrests, suspensions, and summonses are quite notable in just one year of work, there was consensus amongst the panelists that the work is still in progress. Despite halving the total number of summonses issued to Bronx students, more than half of all summonses issued to New York City students in the last year continue to hail from the Bronx. The majority of these summonses — 59 percent — are for disorderly conduct, a low-level infraction. The racial disparities in school arrests and suspensions have also only declined by 5 percent, with 90 percent of all school arrests involving black and latino youth.
Michelle Reyes, a parent leader with the New Settlement Parent Action Committee shared her thoughts on these numbers:
“How do we break the barrier and develop policies where black and latino students feel a sense of self-worth, respect for each other and receive an uninterrupted education with the dignity that they rightfully deserve? While the reductions in school policing are a step in the right direction, we need to remember reducing numbers in and of itself is not the end-all answer. Unless there are restorative policies in place, there is nothing to stop these numbers from increasing again.”
Esperanza Vazques, a fellow leader with the Parent Action Committee agrees. Through an interpreter, she spoke on Saturday about how “Two years ago, 95 percent of all New York City school arrests involved black and latino youth. I want a future where 95 percent of black and latino youth have the opportunity to study in positive school environments, graduate, and head to college.”
Reyes has specific solutions in mind. She believes “there needs to be some kind of accountability that school administrators should have about bringing in real interventions. We need to invest in people to work as full-time restorative justice coordinators because they will provide options for how disciplinary incidents can be handled by getting to the root of the problem instead of moving to suspensions or arrests.”
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