School Safety Agents Should Not Be DOE Employees

Jun 10, 2020 by

Two prominent voices in the education “community” have joined the chorus calling for school safety agents to be transferred from NYPD supervision back to the Department of Education to which they had originally belonged until around 20 years ago.

One voice  belongs to Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy, whose pernicious history and philosophy should make us wary of her motives.  The other  voice is of the deservedly respected former NYC public school principal and school superintendent Matt Bromme, who in good faith is simply mistaken on this issue.

In a recent blog post he explains his position: ” I had some really great SSA officers.  However, I was also assigned some that I could not trust. To get them moved, I had to deal with the local precinct that had no loyalty to my school…”

I think that Bromme was likely an enlightened leader who acted justly and responsibly in his former roles. But that would have been due to his personal inclination and nature, rather than an administrative structure that would encourage it.

For the same reason as there are independent prosecutors, there must be independent school safety agents.

If the principal has absolute control over their performance ratings and job security, then their duties become corrupted by the overriding concern for career survival.

For instance, principals frequently cover up or re-classify student violence because reporting it could be detrimental to their own performance reviews, as evaluations of individuals and schools are cold data-driven.

As members of the School Safety Committee, they must be free to report the truth without it being censored

Otherwise they are reduced to being  water carriers.

If school safety agents, who are civilian members of the police department, become DOE subordinates strictly to chancellor’s regulations,  it would aggravate the already-poor learning climate in some schools and damage whatever existing objectivity remains in the compilation of vital data.

It would be a prescription for stealth, strife and an invitation to management abuse.

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. This has been demonstrated innumerable times. Many, though not all, are distortionists of data.

School Safety Agents should be in 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.

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 totally boss  School Safety Agents, there is no way to rein in the fudged and orchestrated statistics that drive many policy decisions.it becomes easy to ignore fights, soft-pedal mayhem, withhold reports or sugar-coat them, and issue direct orders to suppress, fabricate or redact.

Non-abusive law-enforcement as practiced in our schools 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. 

There have been occasional accusations of brutality lodged against these personnel.  Of course where they exist, they must be prosecuted to the full extent.  No designation or authority should shield them from being wholly answerable for their actions.

Professional development designed to intensity awareness of racist attitudes and behavior, whether overt or subliminal, should be undertaken immediately.  Calls for police reform are rightly being heard and acted on. This includes access by the public to disciplinary records. Would this apply to civilian NYPD employees, such as school safety agents, also?  It should.

Insulating our school safety agents from the dictation of principals is not to intimidate students and parents but to preserve integrity, accountability and fair and equal treatment for all.

Ron Isaac

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