NYRA has offered its full support to the New York Civil Liberties Union’s (NYCLU) suit against New York City’s school safety officers over excessive force and wrongful arrests of students. The lawsuit documents numerous incidents in which students engaged in non-criminal conduct were handcuffed, arrested and physically assaulted by police personnel at school. The police confront and arrest students over minor disciplinary infractions such as talking back, being late for class or having a cell phone in school.

For example, an 11-year-old student was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the police station for an offense as minor as doodling on her desk in erasable ink. Another girl, 13, was grabbed by the arm, handcuffed, thrown down, and pinned to the ground for telling a school safety officer (SSO) she’d prefer to wait for her mother instead of two adult strangers who threatened her.

“Students should not be afraid to go to school,” said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association, “yet every day we hear of new stories where police and school officials make schools a hostile, punitive place to be.”

NYRA believes the reforms the NYCLU lawsuit is seeking will go a long way toward limiting the worst abuse committed by SSOs in New York City, but adult-led lawsuits can only do so much. Until students themselves are empowered to make real decisions about their schools, their communities and their futures, they will continue to face abuse and oppression in schools. NYRA members across the country deal with harsh treatment in their schools and are working to lead the effort to reform education in this country to be more responsive to the needs and desires of students. Local chapters have overcome great opposition to make real, substantive change to schools.

“Schools exist for the benefit of students, yet the individuals most affected by the policies, practices and structure of schools have the least say in crafting them.” said Jeffrey Nadel, NYRA president and founder of NYRA-Southeast Florida. “Instead of teaching us, schools often better prepare us for lives as felons instead of citizens.”