Public School Safety Discussed At Council Committee Hearing
The City Council Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., and the Committee on Education, chaired by Council Member Eva Moskowitz, held a joint hearing last week that focused on recent incidents of violence in city schools and the use of safety plans to protect children in the event of future terrorist attacks.
Despite an eight percent decline in the overall rate of school crime last year, a number of episodes involving attacks against students and teachers have raised concern throughout the city about the safety of New York City’s schools. Last November 20, at Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School, a student was attacked by three teens that held a knife to his throat. The following day, a 16 year old at Evander Childs High School was stabbed in the back. During the month of December, teachers at a Junior High School in Queens threatened to walk off the job after three assaults on teachers in a two-day period.
These incidents took place despite reform efforts such as an increased school safety officer presence and the installation of additional surveillance cameras in schools with a high level of violence. And even after these stepped up security measures, the media have reported that the most dangerous high schools are easily accessible to the public.
"While the overall crime rate in city schools was lower last year, there were still a number of instances in which students and teachers were the victims of violent attacks," Vallone said.
"This not only threatens the safety and well-being of our children and our teachers, it makes it much more difficult to create the kind of calm and orderly classroom atmosphere that we need to improve our schools."
Nearly 15,000 school safety incidents were reported in Fiscal Year 2002. Of those, the most common were harassment, weapons possession, assault and disorderly conduct. Other reported categories include sex offenses, robbery, criminal mischief, drug possession and trespassing.
One of the issues Vallone raised during questioning was the fact that some parents were not informed until February about emergency procedures and that an emergency number for the School Safety Operations center (1-718-935-3300) had not been disseminated.
"I’m very concerned that parents are not being informed in a timely manner about evacuation procedures and school safety in general," he said.
Witnesses who appeared before the hearing, included Ben Tucker, Chief Executive for School Safety and Planning of the NYC Dept. of Education; Assistant Chief, Gerald Nelson; Commanding Officer of the NYPD School Safety Division; Carl Haynes, Head of the Teamsters Local 237; NYPD School Safety Agents, and representatives from the United Federation of Teachers.
According to Tucker, the purpose of the Office of School Safety and Planning is to "promote a climate of safety in all New York City public schools" and that he would utilize a "data driven, problem solving strategy" for realizing that goal.