An Immodest Proposal

Mar 26, 2019 by

It’s said that “even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day.”  The opposite is also true, especially with reference to human judgement. Even a person of sound mind and good intent can make a mistake.

Such is the case with Mark Treyger, chairman of the City Council Education Committee, a worthy elected official, who made an ill-conceived though well-intentioned proposal to the police commissioner and schools chancellor.

If enacted, it would aggravate the already poor learning climate in some schools and damage whatever existing integrity remains in the compilation of vital data.

It would be a prescription for stealth, strife and an irresistible invitation to corruption.

Treyger asserts that “despite their out-sized impact on a school culture, school safety agents do not report to and are not accountable to principals.”

There’s a good reason for that.

Principals have a vested interest in what the data says.  Their reputation and career depend on numbers that smell sweet. They are not impartial parties. They don’t view themselves as mandated reporters of unvarnished statistics

This has been demonstrated innumerable times. They are seasoned contortionists of data.

School safety agents should be in absolute charge of the classification, reporting and narratives of incidents. They should be independent of the principal in this area and not be required to seek their approval to submit this information to the DOE.

Of course, regulations governing confidentiality and release of information must be unaffected.

Principals should still be permitted to deploy these school safety agents to particular stations and assignments and retain partial oversight that does not allow them to infringe upon the agents’ freedom to do their work honestly without meddling and adulteration.

But they should not have any power to discipline them by forced transfers or getting them fired for insubordination. Many principals define that offense as any refusal to do their bidding, no matter how questionable their design.

If principals can rule school safety agents, then there will be no way to reign in the cover-ups and fudged and orchestrated data that drives many policy decisions.

Not too long ago, school safety agents were Department of Education employees.  That fact alone made them laughingstocks to many kids. They had little prestige or credibility and were the targets of much abuse.

Their ineffectiveness was not their fault.

Much of that was reversed when they came under the auspices of the Police Department. That change was not cosmetic. The change of uniform was seen as more than decorative.

Principals were wary of the switch from DOE to NYPD.  They knew it would be harder to ignore fights, soft-peddle mayhem, withhold reports or sugar-coat them, and issue direct orders to suppress, fabricate or redact.

Being answerable to the principal, (modified with restrictions, )is one thing, but being beholden to them is quite another.

As long as the safety agents ( they had a different title then) were their subordinates, they were very comfortable.  They could coerce loyalty, finesse obfuscations, and be assured that they could be sure of complete obedience from the safety agents in the name of “accountability.”

Mr. Treyger points out “As the DOE seeks to reduce punitive interventions…it is imperative that…agents are partners in this work.”

What is he saying?

That because the DOE wants fewer suspensions ( to make it appear that their discipline-related  “initiatives” are  constructive), school principals must ensure that this dubious perception materializes and prevails?

It would thereby give the impression to the public that progress is being made and the positive fallout from that optic would trickle down to the principals in the form of bonuses to them.

That’s teamwork. Secreting and sanitizing incriminating data. Partnership in fraud.

Mr. Treyger makes a valid point, however, that many students may be emotionally troubled and the whole community is better helped if they receive expanded social services, rather than police sanctions.

Granted. They should get those ancillary services.  But this is not always an “either/or” choice.

Anarchy in schools is enabled when it is explained away and managerial responsibility deflected. The whole school community is a casualty.

And it contributes to the achievement gap that so cruelly and disproportionately afflicts minority students, whose focus on learning must defer to concentration on leaving school in one piece at the end of the day.

Many of the same people who want principals to evaluate school safety agents, passionately profess concern over the disparity of academic outcomes, yet are themselves guilty of perpetuating it by deliberate inaccuracy in reporting problems.

Law enforcement has often played a positive role in de-escalating volatile situations that did not, or would not have been responsive to other remediation. Insulating students from the consequences of their actions is a destructive and futile form of advocacy. It may sometimes reveal narcissism or political motives on the part of principals and policy-makers.

President Greg Floyd of Teamsters Local 237, which represents school safety agents, opposes Mr. Treyger’s proposal. His members have experiences first-hand the conspiracies of silence by principals who, despite the agents’ being currently police department employees, have typically tried to bully them.  The union leader urges a conversation be held “with those who know what’s actually going on.”

That includes most school “stakeholders”. Except, sadly too often, those who set public policy.

Ron Isaac

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