MOU: Memorandum of Understanding
In the NYC Public Schools system, there is an MOU-memorandum of understanding, in place between themselves and the NYPD. Essentially, it says tat the police are welcomed on our school campus grounds in order to ensure and enforce safety.
The NYC public schools are largely urban with lower income black and hispanic children in attendance. In their communities, there is an unfortunate history of poor relationships with law enforcement. Their communities are underserved, under-resourced, underrepresented and over-policed.
Children grow up feeling that the police are not their friends.. They risk a random stop and frisk while traveling to and from school, the grocery store, or the playground. Normal day to day movements, for the average youth, male in particular, is not safe. When complaints of brutality or harassment are heard, they are drowned out from the immaculate perceptions of ‘fitting the description’. Children don’t feel safe, supported or understood. Children can’t understand ‘protect and serve’, when they feel unprotected.
Parents fear for their children’s safety each day that they head out for school. At school, they feel unsafe in police presence, as well. Children of color are disciplined more harshly and more frequently by school personnel. Data demonstrates this,and with increased safety officers in place, students of color are more likely to end up in jail or juvenile detention due to infractions at school. But they are still children. Children are expected to make mistakes, and it is up to us to show them alternatives to poor choices, not lock them up, or disrupt their ongoing opportunities to learn better choices.
The MOU basically transferred school safety responsibility from DOE[Department of Education] to NYPD[New York Police Department]. The agencies tasked with teaching prosocial behaviors and academic content have turned their backs on these children. The children whose lives are yet to be shaped on their own terms, realize that their poor choices are criminal in nature. We send messages that they will become criminals as adults, because of the way we treat them as children.
Children are to feel safe and protected where exactly? Where is their space to be children, to process complex emotions, the witnessed traumas, and acquire knowledge? They are forced to live in survival mode-at home and at school. When can they partake of the play of innocence associated with childhood, without threat of being regarded as fully developed adults? We must never forget that no matter what children experience, they are still children.
In the NYC public school system, there are 1.1 million students attending 1800 schools. Understanding the demographic makeup of the student body and their families, should serve as the primary factor influencing the design of school policy, instructional strategies, parent engagement and interventions-student and family supports at that location. We have standardized education and curriculum with middle class white values and customs in mind.
More than this, we reinforce learning and behavior expectations within the same narrow framework. How can these children win when we fail to devise strategies built on their existing strengths first? What happened to ‘teach them from where they are’ This phrase is not to be literally based on location. It meas from their points of reference, as narrow as they may be, but it is we who are to broaden their worlds, not vice versa. Also, being realistic regarding the current teacher demographic, children have to broaden their worldviews to reach them.
They can’t be taught, engaged or expected to behave or think like white middle class children because they are not. We set them up to fail, and then teach them that they are indeed failures, not good enough, and follow that with blame– their parents.
Children don’t determine their circumstances nor do they have any responsibility for heir situations. However, it is guaranteed that they have incredible strengths, talents, resilience and definite potential for excellence. It is up to us to possess the capacity to look at them from that position-from the start. Educators enter schools from outside of these communities with no reference point by which they may see the whole child. The experiences that are a part of their daily lives are brought into the classroom, but they are expected to drop them at the door. That, in essence, is telling them to deny who they are, because no one understands nor do they want to.
Children living in poverty are challenged by realities unknown to teachers. Their families are challenged by affordable housing, homelessness, food insecurities, employment issues, gun violence, and other toxic stressors. Their behaviors and attitudes, considered maladaptive in school settings, are appropriate in their world. It is their experiences which influence how they behave in certain situations. That should be our first realization. Automaticities characterize their responses. They must be allotted ample opportunities to learn that the school environment supports and promotes different values.
Our schools must implement trauma informed practices and policies in order to meet children’s needs. Teachers must be trained in understanding trauma, which includes its impact on learning, behavior, child development and physical and mental health.
Students spend more time with teachers each day than at home with family. It is with teachers that contact with law enforcement begins. They require training in behavior management, cultural responsiveness, relationship building and trained to recognize symptoms and signs of trauma, mental health problems. What is labeled ADHD may in fact be signs of PTSD, and without need for IEP or special academic program placement. NYC invests precious education funds in school safety AND police officers..
NYPD representatives are employed in schools five days per week. School Counselors, in some schools, are present only one or two days per week. That sends a poor message to children, families, the community and the teaching staff, too. If needed, interventions are from police, not school counselors, who may not be there.
In 2014, there were 3,100 School Counselors employed by NYCDOE, though in some schools, there is not even one counselor. 1.1 million students and yet there are merely 583 School Psychologists. Are we not mindful that perhaps, in schools where mass violence occurs, we always come back to unaddressed mental health-related symptoms? But we do seem to acknowledge unaddressed mental health needs after the fact.
Children who we know live in poverty or are members of traditionally marginalized groups experience trauma, stress and other events which are difficult for adults to process. Perhaps their acting out in classrooms are also symptoms and signs of mental health concerns, being acted out in the school setting-deemed safe and supportive. Which is most preventive, proactive, safe and supportive-police or professional mental health support staff? How about restorative? Do these children stand a chance?
Spend education money more wisely. Employ more pupil support personnel, mental health professionals, family liaisons. Set a counselor: student ratio that enables these persons to do their job most efficiently to successfully engage, address and meet students’ needs. Take time to get to know your population and partner with their families.
A 500:1 ratio is irresponsible. Examine the data and utilize evidence-based best practices regarding counseling interventions and engagement strategies which will support comprehensive student wellness without relying on suspension. Consider the whole child, whole family, whole school approaches.
Work on those counterproductive immaculate perceptions and ensure culturally competent staff. Commit to ongoing professional development to build educator capacity to be parts of the solution for these students. Become trauma sensitive. Get all staff on the same page as restorative practitioners who believe that circumstances do not define students. Schools, with relevance, impart the kind of knowledge which will encourage students to discover their gifts, motivate their pursuit of potential and create positive pathways to future life success.
Don’t trade school counselors for city cops! Inform to inspire and educate for excellence in multigenerational engagement!
Final Memo: Children should understand that, in school settings, they are supported, not always suspended.