Three students, three families ripped apart. One student is dead; one critically wounded and the other awaits trial. Yet, at a community meeting with Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Farina and what was termed “parent leadership”, the horrific incident involving a fatal stabbing and a critical wounding inside a Bronx school of two students by another student, who claimed he had been bullied by the two for a long time, never touched on a core question: How did a knife get into a classroom?
Nor were there any irate parents from that Bronx community present to challenge the Mayor and Chancellor on their new school discipline policies which prevent School Safety Agents from intervening in situations like bullyism, that could escalate into a tragedy, and principals from requesting metal detectors despite the fact that, when staff and students were polled, they responded that they feel unsafe in the school. Although the Mayor and Chancellor contend that school violence is down, what they have actually done is change the rules of measurement. They have also tried to do away with any tell-tale signs that violence exists, like metal detectors.
Instead, during the meeting, the Mayor and the Chancellor made many suggestions on how this stunning occurrence might have been avoided and what measures they are working on to keep it from occurring again. The suggestions ranged from hiring more guidance counselors specializing in bullyism, to training teachers and other school personnel to be better able to identify the signs of bullying and engage in conflict resolution to defuse it. The importance of parents talking to their children was discussed at length, with the Chancellor suggesting, “have dinner with your children a couple of times a week.” She also touted a two-week training program for School Safety Agents which would help them learn how to “comport themselves to be more sensitive to the needs of students, and how to smile as they enter the school building. A smile can work wonders.” Despite a report that weapon seizures in schools have spiked by 48% from July 1 through September 30 compared with the same time period last year, the Mayor stated that “violent crime in public schools is down by 18%; bullying is taken seriously and cannot be ignored or tolerated in public schools.” He pledged more funds to combat it, and will seek federal assistance so that “every school will have access to mental health resources.”
Missing from the hour and one-half discussion was any question of why a knife was able to get into the school in the first place. We now know that a second knife was found in the same school, same classroom a day later. While the Mayor, the Chancellor and the parents all mentioned possible remedies, things that could have been handled better and measures to employ for the future, no one mentioned a solution that I have advocated for more than three years. Metal detectors should be installed in all public high schools. Right now, there are only 81 metal detectors in over 1,000 school buildings. And, the Mayor, the Chancellor and the Civil Liberties Union have been chief proponents of lessening the use of metal detectors based on the theory that they create a punitive environment that impedes learning. The Administration established an educational task force which recommended that “Department of Education personnel shall not request the intervention of School Safety personnel when responding to the following normative child and adolescent behaviors, absent a real and immediate threat of serious injury to a member of the school community,” listing “Disorderly conduct… use of racial or other slurs… and bullyism.”
The vast majority of our children are well aware of the dangerous world in which we live…they go to baseball games and concerts and are not stigmatized by security precautions. Rather, they accept them as part of life today. We also know that the numbers of weapons that enter public schools is not accurately reported. The DOE, NYPD and State Department of Education can all engage in a battle of whose statistics are correct, but we remain steadfast in denouncing the new criteria under the de Blasio Administration for what constitutes a violation of acceptable school behavior. Many previous offenses are no longer categorized as a violation and hence, a student caught may not be a student reported. If there is no report, there is no crime and the numbers of crimes ostensibly go down. Recently, a student brought into school a Flintlock gun and luckily, that school did have a metal detector and our School Safety Agents seized the weapon. The NYPD determined that it was only an imitation gun. The student was not charged with possessing a weapon and will not be added to the statistics of guns confiscated at public schools. This kind of misclassification adds to our doubts about the Mayor’s assertion that violent crimes in schools are down — which he uses to argue for the removal of metal detectors. He had just been lucky, until that luck ran out with the fatal use of a weapon by a student.
School Safety Agents should not be handcuffed. They need realistic guidelines and equipment to protect students and staff. Instead of the increased use of “Warning Cards”, now being issued for possession of marijuana and the broad category of “Disorderly Conduct”, this “pilot project”, which expanded to being used in 71 High Schools, does not act as a disincentive to bad behavior. Rather, this virtually meaningless “punishment” serves to incentivize misconduct. Clearly, changing the definition of a crime doesn’t make the crime go away.
I believe that this tragedy could have been avoided with metal detectors, and think that if parents and students of that Bronx school and schools throughout the City were asked, they would overwhelmingly agree. Guidance counselors, sensitivity training and smiling faces greeting students at the door are no substitute for detecting and keeping a potentially deadly weapon from getting into the school building. We agree that it is essential to address the root cause of why someone would want to bring a weapon into school, but we must first address how someone can get a weapon into that school in the first place. It’s a fact that metal detectors save lives. But if the Mayor and the Chancellor are more concerned with hurt feelings and political optics, I challenge them to devise another solution that is realistic for the world we live in, not the world we want. The carnage must stop before the cures are found. Civil liberties are important, but saving children’s lives must be our first priority. Just ask three grieving families.