"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Bloomberg and Klein's Penal Pedagogy Model

Bob Herbert in the NYTimes:

If you don’t think the police in New York City need to be reined in, consider the way the cops and their agents are treating youngsters in the city’s schools.

In March 2009, a girl and a boy in the sixth grade at the Hunts Point School in the Bronx were fooling around and each drew a line on the other’s desk with an erasable marker. The teacher told them to erase the lines, and the kids went to get tissues. This blew up into a major offense when school safety officers became involved.

The safety officers, who have been accused in many instances of mistreating children, are peace officers assigned to the schools. They wear uniforms, work for the New York Police Department and have the power to detain, search, handcuff and arrest students. They do not carry guns.

In this case, the officers seized the two pupils and handcuffed them. Before long, an armed police officer showed up to question the youngsters. The girl asked for her mother and began to cry. Tears were no defense in the minds of the brave New York City law enforcers surrounding this errant child. They were determined to keep the city safe from sixth graders armed with Magic Markers.

The children were transported in handcuffs to the local precinct.

The girl in that case is one of five plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit filed against the city by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The suit alleges widespread mistreatment of public school students by safety officers and the police. New York City schoolchildren are often arrested, the suit charges, for minor misbehavior that might be a violation of school rules but is in no way a violation of law.

Just last month, a 12-year-old girl at a junior high school in Queens was arrested for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. She was paraded out of school in handcuffs and taken to a precinct stationhouse. She wept, too.

When asked about that case, a spokesman for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said “common sense should prevail” when decisions are made about whether to handcuff and arrest students. But common sense is frequently in short supply when the safety officers and the police are imposing their will on students who are not lawbreakers.

The lawsuit, for example, refers to a case that occurred in the fall of 2008, when a school safety officer kicked in the door of a stall in the boys’ bathroom at Robert F. Kennedy Community High School in Queens. The student in the stall, who had done nothing wrong, was hit in the head by the door and injured. The safety officer is alleged in court papers to have said: “That’s life. It will stop bleeding.”

The boy’s family sued the city and a settlement of $55,500 was reached.

In January 2008, a 5-year-old kindergarten pupil became unruly at a public school in Queens. A public safety officer, seeing her duty, pounced. She handcuffed the boy who was then shipped off to a hospital psychiatric ward. A 5-year-old!

Was that child perhaps traumatized by the way he was treated? Hey, it’s the price you pay if the city is to be defended against unruly 5-year-olds. After a few hours the boy was released into the arms of his mother.

These are all incidents that are familiar, or should be familiar, to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who went out of his way to demand control of the public schools, and Mr. Kelly, who is in charge of the police and the school safety officers. But we don’t hear much from them about the abuse of children in the public schools. They’ll crow at the drop of a hat about crime going down. But when the abuse of innocent children is up for discussion, their silence is something to behold.

One of the plaintiffs in the Civil Liberties Union lawsuit was a 10th grader at Hillcrest High School in Queens in 2008 when he was arrested by school safety officers. During a gym class, according the suit, the boy was asked by a classmate to pass a cellphone to another classmate. Cellphones are not permitted in the schools.

When confronted by safety officers, the boy tried to explain that he had merely passed the phone to someone else, and he insisted that he did not want to be touched or searched. But he was pushed into a storage room, the suit says, and forcibly searched. The suit alleges that he was also beaten, punched in the face, forehead and elsewhere.

No cellphone was found, but an ambulance had to be called. A recommendation by the safety officers that the boy be given a psychiatric examination was apparently ignored. All charges were dropped.

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