Bloomberg's plan won't make schools safe
By Peter Lamphere | January 16, 2004 | Page 2
NEW YORK City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new school safety program that will put more police in 12 middle and high schools around the city. But adding extra cops won't make anyone safer--not teachers, and certainly not students.
New York's tabloid press has been campaigning for the police for months, with sensational stories about violence at "Hell High," as the New York Post puts it. But the issue of safety is a real one.
At Columbus High School in the Bronx, for example, a teacher was hospitalized for two weeks after an intruder attacked her. Spending cuts have left classrooms overcrowded, the suspension system weakened and security agents and other personnel stretched thin.
There is a permanent shortage of safety agents--who, unlike the police, aren't armed and don't have arrest powers--because the position is so poorly paid. That's why school workers question whether Bloomberg's promise to assign extra school safety agents will have a long-term impact.
But there's no question what adding more armed police will do. Most of the schools singled out by Bloomberg had one officer assigned to them already. Now, there are another 10 cops in each school. Already, the first day of the program led to the arrest of 12 students, mostly for violations like "disorderly conduct."
"It's like they're turning the school into a precinct," 16-year-old Keith Booker from Washington Irving High School told the New York Times. At some schools, students are being required remove their shoes in airport-like security procedures before going inside.
Cops arresting students and running them through the criminal justice system will not solve any of the root causes of school violence. In fact, it will only increase the anger that students feel against a system that already seems rigged against them.
Bloomberg's so-called "zero tolerance" policy echoes the "quality of life" police tactics implemented by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani--under which the NYPD's notorious street crimes unit made as many as 30,000 unjustified searches of minority men each year.
Unfortunately, teachers' union president Randi Weingarten is claiming that the school safety program is a victory that came about because of her cooperation with Bloomberg. Meanwhile, the same mayor has refused to bargain at all with the teachers' union on a contract that expired seven months ago. And Bloomberg's school chancellor is threatening union sabbaticals, seniority transfer rights and tenure--not to mention retroactive pay for the overdue contract.
A fighting teachers' union could take real steps to create safer schools. But that means winning smaller guidance counselor caseloads, smaller class sizes and more classroom space. Rather than working with the mayor to put more cops in the schools to arrest students, teachers should be engaging in workplace action to build new schools and reduce class size.
Instead, Weingarten has systematically refused to make class size a negotiating point, instead pushing for a ballot measure on the issue, which was then thrown out by the courts. In fact, when union pickets brought media attention to the overcrowded conditions at many large high schools, the city responded with more money for building classroom space.
Teachers should be picketing to demand that the city come to the bargaining table on our contract. That kind of rank-and-file militancy can win better--and safer--schools in New York City.