April V. Taylor
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is demanding sweeping changes to current discipline guidelines for the more than 5,000 school safety officers in New York City. The NYCLU has previously sued the NYPD for use of force against students and wrongful arrest, made the demands during a press conference Wednesday, stating that school discipline should be handles by educators, not the police.
Alecia Cabral made a statement at the NYCLU press conference about her 5-year-old special needs son who was tied to a chair with velcro straps by officers. Cabral says her son was traumatized by the experience and now has trouble sleeping and is afraid of cops. Cabral says that her son was restrained after acting out in gym class and that officers kept him tied to a chair for twenty minutes even after he had calmed down. Cabral also stated, “There needs to be a better way. Kids with special education needs need support, and how they handcuffed my son like a criminal. I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else. That’s why I’m speaking out.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a statement to reporters following the incident with Cabral’s son stating that “new policy will be announced quite soon clarifying the kind of restraint we expect in these situations.”
Cabral’s son is just one example of kids being handcuffed. According to the mother of 7-year-old Wilson Reyes, her son was handcuffed for ten hours “and verbally, physically and emotionally abused, intimidated, humiliated, embarrassed and defamed,” over an allegation that he stole $5 from a fellow student.
NYCLU executive director Donna Liebermann stated, “We want an end to the use of handcuffs. We want an end to the control of school discipline by school safety officers.” Liebermann also called on the city’s Department of Education to begin tracking how often kids are handcuffed by officers. Freshman Ben Roter wore a pair of handcuffs during the press conference, hoping the visual would help drive home the message that kids do not belong in handcuffs as part of school discipline. Roter addressed the fact that although he sees school safety officers on a daily basis, he has yet to meet his guidance counselor.
Bernard Dufresne, a staff attorney with Advocates for Children, believes that the success of the 2010 Student Safety Act in reducing unnecessary student suspensions is evidence that requiring officers to report the number of incidences where handcuffs are used as well as the number of arrests and summonses would help reduce the occurrence of those situations. Reporting may also help reduce disparities in how policies impact Black and Latino students. According to the Huffington Post, over 90 percent of students arrested for disorderly conduct in New York City schools in 2013 and 2014 were Black or Latino.