Wednesday, August 8, 2007

What if schools splurged on counselors instead?

The following is an excerpt from the Times Picayunes' "Letters to the Editor" Section dated:
Monday, July 02, 2007

Re: "School security firm defends its cost," Page 1, June 25.

Of all of the mistakes made by the Recovery School District in the 2006-07 school year, one of the biggest was spending $20 million on The Guidry Group and their subcontractor Day and Zimmerman, private security companies with no experience working in schools or with children.

Pre-Katrina, New Orleans Public Schools spent approximately $3 million per year to secure 128 schools compared to the $20 million the RSD spent this year on 22 schools. Post-Katrina our children are suffering from post-traumatic stress. Our schools and our children need more support, not more policing. What if we spent $1 million per school on additional social workers, counselors and behavioral interventionists?
Schools that look and feel like prisons do not make kids learn better. RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas needs support in his decision to reduce security, increase the use of parents and community and implement district oversight.

Finally, should we celebrate that the "troublemakers left and just stopped coming to school"?

Our bet is that the students who left are now part of the large struggling group of young people 17-25 who are unemployed and unemployable, in a city desperate for workers.

When we will stop blaming our children and begin to believe that all children deserve schools that expect them to get a scholarship to college instead of a free ride to prison?

It is time that adults take the responsibility for creating school environments that educate all students.

Ellen Tuzzolo

Senior Youth Advocate

Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana

New Orleans

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The School-to-Prison Pipeline in New Orleans

Statement: The School-to-Prison Pipeline in New Orleans

My name is Ellen Tuzzolo. I am a Youth Advocate for the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and a member of the Schools First Coalition, a group that envisions an educational system in New Orleans that does not funnel our children into detention centers and prisons. I am here to detail and offer solutions for three main problems with the current policies and practices of our schools that are rebuilding, in New Orleans, what we call the school to prison pipeline.

1) Our schools act as small military states, taking the school’s focus off of learning:
• Students complain of excessive search procedures including being required to remove shoes and undergarments. Even some elementary students go through metal detectors and have their tiny booksacks searched.
• As of January, the Recovery School District schools had one security guard to every 37 children as compared to a pre-storm ratio of one security guard to every 333 children.
• These practices are used disproportionately in our lowest performing schools. We have created a system where our students with special needs and our struggling students are being pushed into schools where they are far more likely to have continual contact with police.

2) Our schools are criminalizing and inappropriately punishing petty offenses while lacking alternatives to removal:
• Pre and post-Katrina the Juvenile Division reports that approximately 25-35 percent of all juvenile court referrals come from schools.
• Students as young as nine have been handcuffed in school, while some students have been handcuffed to tables and chairs, brutalized by police and security on school grounds, arrested and hauled off to the juvenile division for petty incidents. The fact that NOPD and security in schools are not specially trained in working with young people fuels this problem.
• New Orleans expelled children at a rate of almost three times the national average before the storm. In 2003 that amounted to 829 expulsions in one school year! Current data is not yet available, yet we have heard countless reports of students being suspended for “offenses” such as having their shirts untucked.
• Students who are recommended for expulsion have waited for sometimes one to two months for hearings for incidents that do not involve any drugs, weapons, or injuries. While many of these incidents surely warrant consequences, we all know sending a child on a three day to two month vacation is not the answer.

3) There is a lack of adequate services and supports for students.
• The story is ageless: a student with special learning needs in an overcrowded class becomes frustrated. Another student calls the child “retarded”, a fight ensues and the special needs child is accosted by school security, police, or administration and undoubtedly punished for what is a manifestation of a disability and a reaction to the feeling of constant failure. When a child does not know how to solve an equation, we teach them math. When a child does not know how to behave, we punish them and sometimes rely on the juvenile justice system to fix the problem.
• Finally, in post-Katrina New Orleans, experts estimate “that of the displaced and returning children 54 percent were experiencing symptoms that put them in need of further mental health care.” Clearly we need an unprecedented amount of services and supports in schools for all students.


In recent months, the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association Education Committee (DNIA-EC) has demanded that schools reduce security guards and replace them with additional social workers, interventionists, and counselors. The DNIA-EC has also made public their vision of “schools as community centers” as a way to transform our current struggling schools. Schools First shares this vision and stands in solidarity with the DNIA-EC.

In Chicago, communities saw great success when school leaders transformed schools into “‘the anchor of the community,’ a community hub where families can have access to services and programs.” These community schools showed decreased student mobility, increased student achievement, better attendance and lower truancy rates. With financially assisting communities that are already working toward creating schools as community centers, city council could lead as significant part of the transformation of our schools.



1) Review the comprehensive zoning ordinance to determine how City Council can streamline the process to create schools that also operate as community centers.
2) Partner with local and national businesses and foundations to fund an initiative turning schools into community centers which provide a multitude of programming for students and their families, including services to support mental and behavioral health.
3) Immediately fund a training curriculum for NOPD working the in schools that includes sessions on adolescent development, positive interactions with youth, working with students with special learning needs, the impact of stress on student behavior, and incorporating security practices into the goals of the School-wide Positive Behavior Support program.
4) Require NOPD to track and report accurate and detailed school arrest data quarterly. With this data, advocates can pressure the various school entities to create in-school alternatives to removal that keep kids in school and off the streets of New Orleans.


1) Create and implement effective school-based interventions and alternatives to removal to help students with challenging behaviors.

2) Immediately fund a training curriculum for current security personnel and law enforcement working the in schools that includes sessions on adolescent development, positive interactions with youth, working with students with special learning needs, the impact of stress on student behavior, and incorporating security practices into the goals of the School-wide Positive Behavior Support program.

3) Immediately fund additional mental health specialists, school/guidance counselors, interventionists and social workers in schools and maintain a wide range of services to invest in the strengths of all our children.

4) Attain a “second opinion” from a local or national expert on the number of security guards necessary in each school and maintain a security staff that meets the need for school safety without criminalizing kids.

5) Set up a formal system allowing students to file complaints against specific security personnel and release a report summarizing the institutional response to these complaints.

6) Immediately bring in a nationally recognized special education consultant to assess the current services being provided to special education students in OPSB, RSD and charter schools.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Statement to BESE on April 17, 2007

Statement to BESE on April 17, 2007

Ellen Tuzzolo

It is difficult to stand before you today, in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy in Virginia, to address the issue of security and law enforcement in our Recovery School District Schools. However, this event gives us even more reason to look hard at the facts about school violence and closely consider how we keep our children safe. We must remember that despite incidents in our elementary and secondary schools nationally, studies show that schools are still one of the safest places for children. While we mourn these events we cannot continue to follow policy that ignores the consequences of using poorly trained security and detail police officers in Louisiana’s Recovery School District.

In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control found that “there is a less than a one in a million chance of a school aged youth dying or committing suicide on school grounds or on the way to school.”[i] The year this was reported there were 5 more school-related violent deaths than there were in the 2004-2005 school year. The fact is that school related deaths are down in the past decade[ii]. In 2000 the Bi-Partisan Working Group on Youth Violence of the 106th Congress weighed in on this issue. They stated that, "There are many misconceptions about the prevalence of youth violence in our society... it is important to note that, statistically speaking, schools are among the safest places for children to be."[iii]

It is common to hear children blamed for the crime issue in New Orleans, despite this fact juvenile crime, post Katrina, is actually down by 87 percent.[iv] In the process of rebuilding the schools, this misconception of a juvenile crime wave, was the guiding force it seems behind creating school environments that mirror prisons. Again, juvenile crime is down, but we have created a situation in which children are being unfairly criminalized in places where they are supposed to be nurtured and educated.

Here is the story:

The Guidry Group, with no prior contracts to provide school security, was hired by the state to oversee and manage security in the Recovery School District. The Guidry Group subcontracted with Day and Zimmerman, another company who has never before provided school security. In a meeting with Guidry’s project manager, he explained that a pre-risk assessment was completed prior to the beginning of school in which they took into consideration, “the neighborhood and the amount of doors in the building.” This seems to be why Guidry decided to initially place over thirty security guards and 4-6 detail cops in some of our schools, at ratio of 1 security guard to every 37 students. To make things worse, many of these guards did not receive any specialized training in working with children in school environments.

Since the DNIA recommendations and solutions were given to this board and to RSD, even more parents have come to us in crisis over incidents with employees of the Guidry Group:

One grandmother described an awful scene in which three of her granddaughters, all elementary aged, were handcuffed together while another one of her granddaughters were handcuffed to a bench. When an adult family member was called to school, the Guidry employee, a NOPD officer, told her to “beat them until I am tired. If you don’t they are going to jail.” The same grandmother reported that a security guard sat on another one of her granddaughters, an eleven-year-old, in his efforts to get her to follow directions. In both instances the guardian and the children were threatened with arrest.

Schools First staff received a report of a female student who was forced to remove her bra while being searched by school security. She then sat in the girls’ bathroom for more than 30 minutes waiting for her clothing to be returned to her.

Finally, one young lady described a scene in which she was arrested in the hallway while having a verbal argument with an administrator and was choked by a Guidry employee, an NOPD officer, while being pushed into a police vehicle and escorted to Orleans Parish Prison where she spent 3 days and two nights.

These incidents beg the question: why are there still so many poorly trained security guards and detail officers in our schools?

Ultimately, we believe that arrest records and experiences in handcuffs will never broaden opportunities for our children. We come here today to ask, what will be done to make sure our children are not victims of adults’ failures to create environments that provide for appropriate safety measures without criminalizing kids? There are local and national experts on these issues. When will they be engaged?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Our Mission

To transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities in order to instill hope and to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive