October 27, 2023
On Friday October 27th, Associate Executive Director of Policy and Advocacy Alice Bufkin and Policy and Advocacy Associate Caitlyn Passaretti submitted written testimony to the New York City Council Education and Public Safety Committees for the Oversight Hearing on New Safety Initiatives in NYC Public Schools. In this testimony, Alice and Caitlyn emphasize the importance of providing resources to students experiencing behavioral or emotional crises, rather than meeting them with restraints and criminalization. Read further to learn of CCC’s recommendations and hopes for the public school system to become a restorative place of learning for all youth.
Since 1944, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York has served as an independent, multi- issue child advocacy organization. CCC does not accept or receive public resources, provide direct services, or represent a sector or workforce; our priority is improving outcomes for children and families through civic engagement, research, and advocacy. We document the facts, engage and mobilize New Yorkers, and advocate for solutions to ensure that every New York child is healthy, housed, educated, and safe.
We would like to thank Chair Joseph and Chair Hanks and all the members of the Committees on Education and Public Safety for hosting this oversight hearing to address new safety initiatives in NYC Public Schools. Students deserve to feel safe at school and to have behavioral health resources available that will help them learn and thrive.
Too often, students experience harm in schools at the hands of school police, and this harm disproportionately impacts Black and Latine students. A recent report by Advocates for Children found that in nearly 10% of “child in crisis” interventions, the NYPD responded to a student’s mental health crisis by handcuffing the child with metal or Velcro restraints. In the most recent school year, there was an almost twenty percent increase in child in crisis interventions, and the police used handcuffs in 8% of those interventions. More than half of students who were handcuffed were Black, despite Black students accounting for only 24% of the public enrollment of New York City’s schools.1 The school to prison pipeline starts with unjust school discipline and disproportionately pushes students of color and students with disabilities out of schools and into contact with the juvenile justice system. We must address the roots of this pipeline, including by ensuring students feel safe and supported in schools.
In their 2023 Youth Agenda, NYC students emphasized their needs for mental health services. According to the Youth Ask Youth Census, over 35% of youth did not have access to mental health services when they needed them, and almost 30% of surveyed youth could not access medication, support groups, trusted people to speak with, or general counseling when they needed it. This is an unacceptable reality for students who are reporting high rates of stress and anxiety. Young people urgently need interventions that offer care and support, not punitive interventions.
Int. No. 0003-2022 is an important step towards ensuring students in crisis receive the supportive services they need, rather than harmful intervention by law enforcement. This bill will prohibit the use of physical and material restraints on students who are experiencing a behavioral or emotional crisis. The bill also requires greater regulation of police response to students, strengthens requirements around documentation of de-escalation efforts, and identifies trained clinical staff as the appropriate first responders to students in emotional. These are all important provisions that CCC strongly supports.
However, we do not support language in bill that would direct more funding to school police, including through trainings. We believe funding is best spent on training and supporting school and community personnel who can offer direct mental health supports to young people and prevent the involvement of the NYPD or school police. Young people repeatedly tell us that police do not make their experiences in schools safer, and as such we urge that funding be devoted to supportive services including restorative justice supports, school-based mental health clinics, the Mental Health Continuum, children’s mobile crisis teams, and in-school supportive staff, as well as community supports such as youth and family respite centers. In order to protect funding for many of these critical programs, City leaders must ensure that funding for programs like restorative justice and school social workers is maintained even after federal stimulus funding for these investments expires.
We also urge the City to engage B-HEARD as part of the crisis response instead of 911 if police are called. However, there are ways the City can improve B-HEARD’s response to ensure it does not unnecessarily involve police and is appropriate for intervention with young people, including by taking the following steps:
Finally, CCC stands with other advocates in this space urging the City to redirect funding from school policing towards preventive services for students, including behavioral health services. Therefore, we echo our partners in calling for:
Students deserve to be supported and thrive while in school. We look forward to collaborating with the City Council in making schools a safe and supportive space for all students, and appreciate the consideration of these important issues.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony.