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Commentary By Max Eden

How De Blasio Made Schools Less Safe — Then Hid the Evidence

Education, Cities Pre K-12, New York City

A student at Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation this week stabbed two of his classmates, killing one and critically injuring the other. The stabbing prompted an increase in security at the school, and it should also prompt an increase in scrutiny on school safety citywide.

In the early news reports, one sliver of consolation was cited time and again: On the whole, crime has gone down in city schools. Just one problem: It’s not true. Indeed, how those statistics were intentionally deflated may bear some responsibility for what happened.

“Last year, the number of weapons found at schools, according to official statistics, rose nearly 40 percent, but you rarely saw stories about that in the news.”

At an event this spring on safety in city schools, Derek Jackson, director of the school-safety-officers union, said: “We agree that crime is down. Crime is significantly down. But . . . crimes are not being reported the same.”

Jackson gave an example that this week cuts too close to home: “Let’s say a kid brings in a box-cutter, a razor blade, a small pocket knife. Those were [once] offenses where those weapons would be confiscated, vouchered in a precinct and documented in a juvenile report. Those things are not happening now.”

Principals are under pressure to underreport incidents. So, “principals are forced to advise school-safety agents, ‘If little Johnny brings in a box cutter, bring little Johnny to me, and we will handle it in house.’”

Last year, the number of weapons found at schools, according to official statistics, rose nearly 40 percent, but you rarely saw stories about that in the news.

According to Jackson, now that school-safety agents are under the NYPD, they are told that “if they give information to the union, if they give pictures of weapons, if they inform the union of offenses, they will be punished by the NYPD for doing it.” (The NYPD essentially denies that.)

While the de Blasio administration may have silenced safety officers, it hasn’t silenced the voices of students and teachers. This year, I released a report showing that, according to students’ and teachers’ answers to the NYC School Survey, violence has become more frequent at nearly half of the city’s middle and high schools (while only 15 percent improved).

The de Blasio administration has made changes to the survey that make a comprehensive follow-up paper all but impossible. But the answers to a handful of questions provide a window into what happened at Urban Assembly high school this week.

“While the de Blasio administration may have silenced safety officers, it hasn’t silenced the voices of students and teachers.”

In the last school year under Michael Bloomberg, 2013-14, 86 percent of teachers there said discipline and order were maintained. In 2016-17, just 19 percent of teachers said so. In 2013-2014, 56 percent of students agreed that their peers treated each other with respect. Last year, 22 percent said so.

And whereas in 2013-14, 80 percent said they felt safe in the hall, last year only 55 percent did.

In response to the stabbing, parents have cried out asking: why wasn’t there a metal detector? Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Times that to ask that question “is to miss the point.” Rather, “The question is: What went wrong?”

Given that a metal detector could have intercepted the murder weapon, it’s hard to see how that question misses the point. However, Lieberman’s question is also worth asking.

The answer, perhaps, is that Mayor de Blasio decided to listen to Lieberman and her ilk who insisted traditional school discipline had to be overhauled for the sake of “racial equity.”

To them, the fact that minority students are suspended at higher rates reflects teachers’ racial bias rather than differences in student behavior. So, de Blasio demanded that principals pressure teachers to suspend fewer students and school-safety officers take a more hands-off approach.

As he did, public schools became more violent and less safe. The deterioration was most dramatic in schools serving more than 90 percent students of color, based on student survey answers. And in one of those schools, the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, a student was just stabbed to death by his classmate.

Notably, charter schools have not been subject to these reforms and are often a beacon of safety and stability in a sea of schoolhouse disorder.

An upcoming report of mine compares what students and teachers are saying about school safety in nearby charter and public schools: Nearly three times as many charters are safer than most of their neighbors rather than less safe. Charters are safer even after demographic factors, like poverty, disability and minority enrollment are taken into account.

Rather than take false comfort from hokey safety statistics, we should look at what’s really happening in New York City’s public schools and understand that it doesn’t have to be this way.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post


Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post