Youths Act to End School-to-Prison Pipeline

Students rallying at City Hall in New York City call for more guidance counselors and fewer police in public schools. Photo credit: Urban Youth Collaborative.

NEW YORK — Students in New York City are calling for school safety to be taken out of the hands of the police department. They call it the school-to-prison pipeline, zero-tolerance policies that involve police in minor incidents leading to student arrests, juvenile detention and incarceration.

Since 1998 the New York Police Department has been training and supervising School Safety Agents who have the authority to arrest students in public schools.

But Kobie Fraser, a youth leader with Future of Tomorrow and the Urban Youth Collaborative, says that has encouraged a law enforcement approach to maintaining school discipline.

“That can be a role of teachers or their deans, and through restorative justice, once implemented correctly, the student can have time to reflect on whatever the situation may be,” she states.

The youths are calling for funding to be redirected from deploying School Safety Agents to promoting approaches that reduce conflict and encourage resolution.

Fraser says schools need more resources that can help address the root causes of behavior problems.

“More after-school programs, more mental health professionals, more tutoring instead of having police in schools to counteract the learning environment that children should have and deserve,” she states.

Fraser adds that harsh disciplinary practices disproportionately impact students of color, students with special needs and LGBTQ students.

In 2011, New York City passed the School Safety Act, requiring quarterly reporting of disciplinary actions, including arrests and suspensions by race, gender, age and location.

According to Fraser, that data is helping to change the way police and schools approach discipline.

“We’ve received promises from the mayor to implement restorative justice programs in middle schools and high schools,” she states. “We’ve been able to have social-emotional learning added to elementary school programs and secured more funding for social workers.”

Fraser says ultimately, students hope to see school safety agents removed from public schools entirely.

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