By Ivan Pereira
A Hillcrest High School’s student alleged abuse at the hands of school safety agents in March prompted dozens of teens and some several city groups to rally for reform and change in the way the city Board of Education handles security inside classrooms.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and South Asian activist group Desis Rising Up & Moving held a news conference outside the Jamaica high school Monday to bring attention to a lawsuit filed by 16-year-old student Rohan Morgan.
Morgan, of Laurelton, claims he was beaten and arrested by NYPD school safety officers March 25 after he brought his cell phone, which he claims was not permitted on school grounds, to class.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
The problem got worse, according to the boy’s mother, Trady Ann Morgan, because when she went to complain to Hillcrest’s vice principal, he allegedly said he could not address the matter and told her to contact the NYPD. That explanation failed to mollify Morgan, so she and her son filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city Department of Education seeking damages as a result of the alleged incident.
Trudy claimed her son suffered a severe knee injury from the beatings.
“The school safety officers treat our children like criminals. When you treat students like criminals, then the school becomes a jail,” she said.
A DOE spokeswoman said the agency could not comment because of the lawsuit, which was filed in August, but said it does listen to parent’s concerns over safety officers.
“We take these allegations seriously and investigate them when they are brought to our attention,” the spokeswoman said.
That explanation was not good enough for other Hillcrest students and the activist groups. Other students said they were also victims of rough behavior on the part of school safety agents.
Kumar Heeralall, 21, who graduated last year, claimed he was also assaulted and handcuffed by school safety officers while he was a student, even though he claimed not to have broken any school regulations.
“They locked me inside a room,” he said. “I was so scared I didn’t know who to talk to.”
New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council to vote on the Student School Safety Act, which was introduced to the Council’s Education and Public Safety Committees in August. The act would require quarterly reports by both the DOE and NYPD on school safety issues, including arrests and expulsions.
It would also expand the jurisdiction of the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board so it could hear complaints about school safety officers.
“We believe students need advocates,” Lieberman said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.