December 24, 2003

Mayor Says He'll Increase Security at Dangerous Schools


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised yesterday to crack down on violence in the public schools by flooding the most dangerous ones with additional safety agents and police officers and imposing swifter and tougher disciplinary measures, including a "three strikes and you're out" policy for repeat offenders.

Under the policy, students who have been suspended twice within the last two years will be removed from school immediately if they commit even a minor infraction, like using profanity. The plan also establishes a "zero tolerance" policy for students who are caught with weapons or who injure others.

"The days of tolerating the few who hurt the many are over, starting now!" an unusually animated Mr. Bloomberg told a news conference at the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety in Jamaica, Queens. He was joined by Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Mr. Bloomberg insisted that crime had declined sharply in the schools in recent years, and he said that his plan did not call for hiring any additional school safety agents or for directing additional city money to the effort. Officials said there were now 4,108 safety agents in the schools, the most ever.

The mayor did not name the dangerous schools to be singled out, and he offered scant details about some aspects of the initiative, including plans to assign probation officers to schools and to deploy school personnel in the court system to provide information about student defendants to judges and probation officers.

But he was emphatic in saying that he had little sympathy for students who disrupt the education of others. "Feel sorry for them?" he asked in a mocking tone. "How about those they prey on?"

The mayor bluntly took responsibility for tackling the issue.

"Everybody is at fault," he said. "Everybody is part of the solution. Let's not look to the past. Let's not point fingers. You want to know who's responsible? I am responsible. If I don't fix this, don't vote for me. But I am going to fix it."

Mr. Bloomberg was similarly straightforward on his radio program a week and a half ago, accepting the blame for problems in the disciplinary process that led to long delays in suspending dangerous students and removing them from the schools.

Yesterday's announcement included plans to speed up suspensions as well as to ensure that hearings at which students can contest allegations are held within five days, as required by state law.

Under the plan, schools at which the additional safety agents and police officers are deployed will be labeled impact schools. A police sergeant will oversee the stepped-up security at each impact school.

The plan also will establish a school safety hot line, through the existing 311 city information number, for reporting security problems.

The mayor said the city would open four new off-site suspension centers for students who commit mid-level offenses and four additional New Beginnings centers, where students with chronic behavior problems can be assigned for six months.

The city currently operates 16 New Beginnings centers for high school students. Two of the new centers will be for middle school students as part of the first such program for children in the sixth to eighth grades.

Students who violate the three-strikes policy or the zero-tolerance policy for weapons and violence will be sent to Second Opportunity Schools, for students suspended for a full year. The mayor's aides said they did not know how many students had been suspended more than once in the last two years.

Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott, who helped develop the mayor's plan, said the city would also increase the number of schools at which it uses metal detectors to scan for weapons.

After the mayor first acknowledged problems with the school disciplinary process, he requested the help of the teachers' and principals' unions. Yesterday, however, the president of the teachers' union, Randi Weingarten, did not attend the news conference. She said she had not been invited. City officials said she chose not to attend.

At her own news conference later in the day, Ms. Weingarten praised the plan. "It's a good common-sense approach to solving the school's safety problems," she said. She said the plan could be difficult to implement, but added, "If it works, it will be a great Christmas present for our schools and our students."

The president of the principals' union, Jill Levy, who did attend the news conference, praised the plan.

"Clearly, the mayor has the will to do something about chronic offenders in our schools," Ms. Levy said. "He has put forward what I think is a balance between authority, responsibility and resources. Of course, every plan we see depends on the implementation."

Mr. Bloomberg's announcement came on the last day of school before the Christmas break, giving his administration nearly two weeks to develop the plans.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company