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NYC Kids Say, "De Blasio, Tear Down This Pipeline."

Ujala Sehgal,
Communications Director,
New York Civil Liberties Union
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March 5, 2015

Too many New York City children are standing in their schools wondering if they are in a prison instead. Because that is how they are being treated.

Many people have heard the term School-to-Prison Pipeline. It’s the disturbing nationwide trend where kids, disproportionately kids of color and kids with special needs, are pushed out of schools and into the criminal justice system through unfair practices, excessive suspensions, unnecessary expulsions, criminal summonses, and even arrests. Nowhere is the pipeline stronger than in Gotham.

Thanks to the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations’ school discipline policies, the School-to-Prison Pipeline has been criminalizing kids for years. Children as young as 5 have been handcuffed for throwing temper tantrums, and 12-year-olds have been arrested for infractions as minor as writing on the desk. Students who are arrested while in school are at least twice as likely to drop out of high school as their peers, and more than 90 percent of school arrests in New York City between 2011-13 targeted black and Latino students, a rate 20 percentage points higher than the national average.

But we’re not just pushing kids out of school into the criminal justice system. In a reverse trend, the criminal justice system has infiltrated schools. There are more police in New York City public schools than there are on the streets of virtually every large city in the nation, including Boston and Detroit Around 100,000 kids pass through a gauntlet of metal detectors every day just to get to class.

The impact on kids’ education – their right to learn in a safe, secure, and nurturing environment – isn’t just in the numbers. It is reflected in the everyday experiences of kids themselves. In its sixth episode of Project Liberty, the New York Civil Liberties Union documents the School-to-Prison Pipeline from the inside. They discovered that the current use of police and school safety officers has created an environment where kids feel afraid, alone, and on alert.

Not unlike a prison.

“It’s like a jail cell, we’re getting patted down, locked up, scared,” says high schooler Miltiana. “Why can’t we just come in and get an education?”

Kids feel dehumanized. “It’s like you are a sheep or cow,” student Seydou describes being treated. “It’s like we are the prisoners and they are the prison guards.”

Youth organizer Tiffany Joy Cotto talks about how some local schools have holding rooms, like cells, for “problem” students. One principal refers to an incident where a student was maced while being held in handcuffs.

Kids don’t feel like they are wanted in their own schools. “I’ve seen kids suspended for coming to school late,” says student Alana. “I’ve seen people get suspended for walking out of class to go to the bathroom.”

And schools are alienating the kids who need the most support. As another student says, “I’ve seen plenty of kids drop out. They felt school wasn’t for them.”

The NYCLU’s Project Liberty episode comes as New York City Mayor de Blasio is beginning to reform discipline and school climate. NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman is an appointed member of the city’s School Climate Leadership Team, the body tasked with advising the city on ways it can improve student safety and dignity. In 2010 NYCLU filed a class action lawsuit challenging illegal arrests and excessive force in city public schools.

The city and the mayor have their work cut out for them. But they have a lot of people on their side – first and foremost, their own students.

“This is supposed to be school,” says student Jamail. “We’re supposed to be coming here to learn and get our education.”

We hear you Jamail.

This episode of Project Liberty, directed by Alberto Morales, will broadcast on public access channels throughout the New York City. To view the episode or learn more about policing practices in New York City schools, visit:

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