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Bronx Student Ticketed After Handing Out Flyers Protesting School Closure

Malik Ayala (center) marched to the 45th Precinct on May 7, 2012 with supporters to file a complaint about a summons he received inside Lehman High School.
Malik Ayala (center) marched to the 45th Precinct on May 7, 2012 with supporters to file a complaint about a summons he received inside Lehman High School.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

THROGS NECK — A 16-year-old Bronx boy was slapped with a disorderly conduct ticket inside his high school after trying to hand out flyers protesting the city's plan to shut down the school.

Malik Ayala, a sophomore at Lehman High School in Schuylerville, was summoned to the dean's office last month after being ordered by school staffers to stop handing out copies of a letter he had written urging students to unite and stand up for the school.

The Education Department is in the process of closing it.

"What will happen if all the public schools get shut down?" Ayala, who is a member of the school's Student Leadership Council, wrote in the flyers, which featured the Black Panther Party icon at the top, along with the words, “Power to the People …Then and Now.”

Ayala's letter to students, urging them to band together to save their school, contained the Black Panther Party logo.
Ayala's letter to students, urging them to band together to save their school, contained the Black Panther Party logo.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

Lehman got an F grade in its most recent DOE school ranking each of the past two years, and the school was placed on the chopping block in March.

Ayala said he had printed 200 copies of his letter to distribute to students on April 5, in the hopes of recruiting them for the Student Leadership Council, a youth-led group that had been organizing to save Lehman.

He said a dean saw him in the hallway at 10:30 a.m. and called the school safety officer, who escorted him into the dean's office, where his parents were called.

According to the Police Department, Ayala became “loud and belligerent” while inside the office, leading school staff to call the NYPD's School Safety Division.

Ayala said the officer “snatched” the letter from him, calling it “gang-affiliated.”

“The purpose of the letter was to enlighten [others students] and open their eyes,” said Ayala, who led a march on the 45th precinct Monday night in order to file a formal complaint against the precinct, where the school is located.

“They’re turning our schools into penitentiaries," added Ayala, who said he has was issued a second ticket at a Bronx subway station April 18 while videotaping police officers conducting stop-and-frisks.

The summons is a violation which carries up to 15 days in jail if he is convicted. Ayala is due in Bronx court on June 19.

An Education Department spokeswoman confirmed that Ayala was asked to stop handing out the flyers April 5, and was sent to the dean's office when he continued to do so.

She added that school employees can order students not to circulate material if it is “disruptive, libelous or invades the rights of others,” though she would not specify which part of Ayala’s letter met those criteria.

A spokeswoman for the Police Department said the summons was issued because of Ayala’s behavior, “not based on the pamphlet.”

Ayala said he often cut class last year and earned mostly 50s on tests. But this year, he said, he decided to “switch it around.”

At the advice of a concerned teacher, he joined a community organizing group, called the People Power Movement, as well as the Student Leadership Council. Now, he said, he has lifted his test average to a 75.

Ayala said his flyers were meant to share his newfound belief in the power of education — but also the need for students to demand that they receive the quality of education they deserve.

He contrasts his high school with a high-performing one his friend attends in Manhattan.

“His school does not have metal detectors and is cleaner,” said Ayala, while in Lehman, “I see more police than I see janitors.”

On Monday, about 40 supporters rallied outside of the 45th Precinct stationhouse, which is located about one mile south of Lehman, while Ayala and another teenager, who was ticketed for an unrelated incident outside the school, filed complaints inside the stationhouse about their treatment by the NYPD.

About 10 officers stood guard in front of the building, while a few local residents gathered outside of their houses to watch the commotion.

Several students from Lehman and other neighboring high schools had joined the march, they said, because they often felt disrespected by safety officers in school and police officers outside of school.

“I feel like a criminal every time I walk through those metal detectors,” said Xsavier Daniels, 18, a Lehman senior who, like Ayala, is a member of the Student Leadership Council, a student-organized alternative to the official student council.

Angel Trinidad, a freshman at Bronx Academy of Health Careers, said that school safety officers and police often assume the worst about students — which is reinforced each morning, Trinidad said, when he is forced to remove his steel-toed boots before he can pass through the building’s metal detectors.

“I come into school prepared to work,” said Trinidad, 15. But the layers of security and stern treatment by the guards, he added, makes students feel, “like we’re garbage.”

Members of several activist and civil rights groups participated in the rally, including ones from the People Power Movement, the People’s Survival Program and the New Black Panther Party, who railed against the police policy of stop-and-frisk, which they said amounts to racial profiling.
Ayala said he is not a member of the New Black Panther Party.

Agnes Johnson, 62, a High Bridge resident who works for a private tutoring company, said she joined the rally to protest the heavy security in the city’s public schools because “my students are afraid.”

Johnson said that she enrolled her daughter in a charter high school in the Bronx, but pulled her out after a month because of the level of security in the school.

“I was not going to keep her in their with that massive police presence every day,” said Johnson, adding that she moved her daughter to a public high school in Manhattan, where she said the security presence was less visible and students felt more comfortable.