Op-Ed: Let’s Stop Pretending This Is About Children

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Let’s be honest for a moment and stop pretending this is about children. Senator Felder’s bill to place an armed police officer in front of every NYC school is wrong. This is merely a political ploy to advance his agenda. As a constituent who both lives and works in his district, I know this is not the answer.

Julio Peña III
State Sen. Simcha Felder

Students are already walking into schools that are turning into militarized and policed institutions. Why are we moving so far away from what schools are meant to be? Schools are supposed to be safe, nurturing environments where students can learn, explore, ask questions, be inquisitive, engage with others, be creative, and build healthy and productive relationships. Yes, schools need to be safe. Yes, we need to protect students. Arming teachers or putting police officers in front of schools is not the answer.

A 2013 congressional report found that current research “draws conflicting conclusions about whether [school resource officer] programs are effective at reducing school violence.” We have no conclusive evidence that armed officers keep students safe. An armed officer didn’t stop a shooter during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. On the contrary, the officer was outside the building when the shooting took place.

NYC public schools have safety agents who are recruited and trained by the New York City Police Department that work in collaboration with school staff to maintain safe environments for student learning. Schools need more resources to identify and treat mental health issues. They need more guidance counselors, social workers, mental health counselors, referral services, health services, and other support services that promote student learning and safe learning communities. I see first hand that when students feel safe, connected, and welcomed they do better in school. They engage with their peers, teachers, and administrators. They participate as active members of their school communities.

Walking into a school building and being greeted by an armed officer does not create that welcoming environment, but further reinforces the rhetoric of the school-to-prison pipeline, especially in disadvantaged communities which would be disproportionately affected by this legislation. Is that the message we want to send to our youth?

Senator Felder, where is the research that supports your bill? Further, where is the community support and engagement to support this measure? Have you engaged NYC politicians, PTAs, Chancellor Carranza, Community Education Councils, local leaders, Community Boards, etc…?

If you are looking to pass a state law that affects a specific locality, I would hope that you would engage in some kind of dialogue with the folks who would be directly affected so that we can provide input, be part of the conversation, and give feedback. Isn’t this how elected officials engage their constituents–by engaging in conversations and dialogue, learning about what matters to our families and communities, and then advocating for and against issues? How can we do this vital work if you aren’t coming to the table, Senator Felder?

Julio Peña III is the 1st Vice Chair of Community Board 7 and Chair of the Education and Youth Committee. He is also an Executive Committee member of NYSD 17 for Progress and has worked with at-risk high school students for almost 20 years. He is a resident of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which lies in the northwest section of Senate District 17.

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