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Bronx Students Will Help Train the School Safety Agents Who Guard Them

By Patrick Wall | March 27, 2013 11:15am

THE BRONX — The first adult many students encounter each school day is a security guard ordering them to pass through metal detectors.

These guards, known as School Safety Agents, are civilian members of the Police Department trained to make arrests and break up fights (their job description includes “separating and restraining combatants”).

Often, tensions run high between the school system’s more than 5,000 safety agents and the students they monitor.

Christopher Pagan, a sophomore at Mott Hall Bronx High School, considered that friction when he proposed an idea to school and police officials at a meeting last year.

“If you have parents and students actually talk to these [agents] before they’re sent out to their jobs,” Pagan, 16, recalled saying, “it will be awesome.”

This week, Pagan’s plan will spring to life when he — along with other young people, parents and advocates — host workshops for roughly 200 Bronx safety agents during their spring break training sessions.

“The opportunity is amazing,” Pagan said. “They’re actually listening. They actually want to know what you think.”

The safety agent trainings — the first ever to involve parents and students, advocates say — follow a rare series of meetings on school safety between Education Department and NYPD officials and members of the Bronx school community.

The monthly meetings, which began in August, were prompted by protests over police data that showed a high number of in-school summonses and arrests, mostly of black and Latino students.

In the first quarter of this school year, those numbers dropped dramatically, with about half as many arrests and just over a third as many summonses, new data shows.

Still, critics point out, 93 percent of the arrests and summonses are of minority students.

And, Bronx students continue to receive an outsized share of tickets — 58 percent of all in-school summonses from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 were issued in The Bronx.

The Bronx School Justice Working Group, the coalition that formed during the monthly meetings, will discuss those numbers during the safety agent trainings this week, organizers say.

They will also describe a popular agent at a Bronx middle school who is known to be firm but respectful with students.

And they will detail the long life of a student ticket or arrest — missed school, court dates, fines, jail time — and how this can feed a “school-to-prison pipeline” that funnels students from the education to the criminal justice system, organizers said.

“It’s powerful to see the consequences of the choices you make as an adult when you interact with kids,” said Jaime Koppel, one of the trainers.

On Tuesday, the first day of the workshops, agents listed on a white board who they are and are not, organizers said.

The agents said they are security, counselors, mentors and people. They are not police officers, babysitters, parents or “home girls,” they said.

Pagan, who will lead a Thursday workshop, said such reflections can be eye-opening for students and safety agents alike.

“Not all [agents] are hostile — some actually want what’s best for you,” he said. “And maybe they’ll see not all teenagers are that bad.”