As students in New York City return to school for the fall, a coalition of youth and legal advocacy groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, has launched a campaign to address disciplinary policies that they argue criminalize students, making them less likely to graduate and more likely to end up ensnared in the criminal justice system. The “New Vision for School Safety” presented by the campaign calls for a citywide reduction of the use of police and NYPD school safety officers in schools and an increase in the power of educators, parents and students to shape the safety policies in their school communities.
Advocates argue that strict disciplinary practices, including police presence, metal detectors and “zero tolerance” policies, disproportionately target students of color, especially black and Latino youth. Although only a third of students in New York City are black, they received over half (53 percent) of the suspensions over the past decade, according to the Dignity in Schools Campaign. Of the students suspended for “profanity,” 51 percent were black, and 57 percent of those suspended for “insubordination” were black. Students with disabilities are also four times as likely to be suspended than their non-disabled peers. (A representative for New York’s Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.) The creeping criminalization of school spaces targeting already marginalized populations is not limited to the city of New York – as The New York Times reported earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of students around the country face criminal charges, as opposed to school-based disciplinary measures, each year. A civil suit filed earlier this year in Texas alleges that misdemeanor ticketing disproportionately targeted African American students.