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Violence in Schools Surged 23 Percent Last Year, Pro-Charter Group Says

By Amy Zimmer | February 18, 2016 2:37pm
 A metal detector at a high school in East Flatbush.
A metal detector at a high school in East Flatbush.
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DNAinfo/Jesse Lent

MANHATTAN — Violence in city schools skyrocketed by 23 percent last school year, according to an analysis of state data released Thursday by a pro-charter advocacy group that’s questioning the city’s efforts to change school discipline policies.

The report from Families for Excellent Schools paints an alarming picture of students at risk for bodily harm, claiming that a violent incident occurs in city schools every 4.5 minutes and that a weapon is recovered once every 28.4 minutes.

It also notes that few students are immune since 93 percent of students attend schools where a violent incident occurred over the past year.

The report claims that the numbers, compiled from incidents reported through a New York State Education Department database, directly contradict Mayor Bill de Blasio’s claims that city schools have gotten safer under his watch.

However, what the report doesn't mention is that the jump in violent crime was even higher when you only look at charter schools. According to the state's Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR) that the report was based on the number of violent incidents in charters jumped to 668 last year from 433 the year before, up 54 percent.

In public schools, the numbers jumped to 15,266 last year from 12,545 the year before, up 22 percent.

In his State of the City address earlier this month, the mayor said crime in city schools was down by 29 percent and suspensions were down 36 percent.

Department of Education officials dispute the Families for Excellent School’s analysis, noting that the state database it used includes a wide range of incidents, from minor interactions to severe altercations.

"This data is misleading,” DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness said of the report.

DOE officials said the number of violent incidents in which the NYPD was involved dropped 8 percent from roughly 51,000 to 47,000 between last year and the year before. 

“Our top priority is to provide a safe and supportive environment for every student and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to keep our students safe," she added.

De Blasio has been working to overhaul the school system’s discipline and suspension policies, which have come under fire from civil liberties advocates for creating a “school-to-prison pipeline” for black and Hispanic boys.

His administration has been looking for ways to promote school safety while reducing the overly punitive discipline through community building approaches using “restorative justice.”

The DOE is now requiring every school to have a "de-escalation plan" for violent or other disruptive situations that pose a threat and is increasing de-escalation training, as well as the number of guidance counselors at high-needs schools.

There’s talk about reducing the number of metal detectors in schools.

Many advocates who are supportive of the mayor’s changes have called on de Blasio to take the next steps to ensure they work.

A teacher-led group called Educators 4 Excellence called on de Blasio earlier this week to act on his commitments to change the culture of school discipline by funding the supports needed, such as trainings on de-escalation or restorative justice practices.

The group wants more guidance counselors and expanding restorative justice programs and a clear process for removing scanners from schools.

To date, the group said, no funding has been allocated for these measures.

“Restorative approaches to discipline and a focus on social emotional learning make students’ lives better and make them more effective learners,” said Rosalynn Bristol, an eighth grade teacher at I.S. 211 in Carnasie.

“We could fund these policies on Monday and begin to see the difference this year. There is no reason to delay in putting into action policies that work for all students.”

Panagiota Melis, an English teacher at the High School of World Cultures in The Bronx neighborhood of Parkchester, noted that many teachers support the plan to remove scanners, but they want to know how it’s going to happen and what metrics will be used to support such decisions.

“We need the administration to clarify what schools and communities can do to demonstrate that they are ready to have scanners removed from their buildings,” she said.