School arrest records are raising eyebrows in New York City after the NYPD released new data showing that nearly four students are arrested and ticketed each school day and, most often, those students tend to be Black and male.
“The data raise concerns about Black students being disproportionally arrested in the city’s schools,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “If the Bloomberg administration is truly serious about closing the achievement gap, then they must address this disparity and focus more attention on educating children — not arresting them.”
Among all arrested students in New York City public schools, 68 percent were Black and 25 percent were Latino. In Brooklyn and Staten Island, all of the students arrested were either Black or Latino. Black students make up only 29 percent of the entire school population and Latinos 40 percent. In addition, 83 percent of the arrests were of male students.
The report was compiled pursuant to the state’s Student Safety Act, which requires police to submit quarterly reports to the City Council on information related to its school safety operations, including the number of students arrested and issued summonses by the School Safety Division of the NYPD.
Now, advocates worry that racial disparities in student arrests are contributing to the elusive achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts.
“This report provides the first glimpse into what the NYPD is doing in our schools,” said Udi Ofer, NYCLU advocacy director. “Instead of arresting students who need the most help, the Bloomberg administration should redirect resources from police to services that support student achievement. Why are we employing 5,400 police personnel and only 3,000 guidance counselors?”
According to the New York Department of Education, Black students made up 37 percent of third through eighth graders who scored a 1 on the English Language Arts (ELA) exam and 42 percent of students who scored a 1 on the mathematics exam. A 1 is a failing score that requires students to attend summer school to retake the exams.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education reported that the agency was bombarded with a record number of civil rights complaints in 2011, signaling that New York’s phenomenon may not be an isolated event.
“The civil rights laws are the most sorely underutilized tool in education reform and closing the achievement gap,” says Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights for the DOE. “This is the most important civil rights issue of our time.”
Elsewhere, the Indiana chapter of the NAACP is calling for state intervention into racial disparities in public school discipline. In analyzing the issue, Indiana NAACP leadership has suggested that misunderstandings due to cultural differences may be at the heart of why so many Black students find themselves in more trouble at school.
Although New York schools have pledged to take a closer look at the data, officials say that the numbers also show that their plans for crime reduction are working perfectly.
“[M]ajor crime in our schools has gone down 49% since 2001,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott told the Wall Street Journal. “But we’ll also be taking a close look at the data — as we are with our suspension data — to examine disparities in race and ethnicity and working to ensure schools are providing the appropriate support and counseling to students.”
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(Photo: Commercial Appeal /Landov)