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?


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