Charter advocate says violence is high in city’s public schools

By Patrick Donachie

An education non-profit that advocates for New York City charter schools is accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio of fudging the numbers on safety in New York City’s public schools.

Parents and community leaders joined representatives from Families for Excellent Schools on the steps of City Hall last week to tout the release of the organization’s new report on violence in the city’s public schools and bemoan what they say is a failure on the part of the de Blasio administration to curtail that violence.

In the mayor’s 2016 State of the City address, he boasted that crime in city schools had dropped 29 percent since 2011-2012. However, 2014-2015 was the most violent year on record for schoolchildren in city public schools, according to recently released state data that Families for Excellent Schools cites in its report.

Families for Excellent Schools procured its data from the School Violence Index, a statewide record of all “violent and disruptive incidents” in public schools. The report states that the number of violent incidents in public schools rose from 12,978 in 2013-2014 to 15,934 in 2014-2015, a 22.7 percent increase. According to Jeremiah Kitteredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, the mayor’s numbers are too low to be believed and the state’s count of 15,934 is more accurate than the city’s count of 6,875 school safety incidents.

“The state’s data immediately calls into question the mayor’s credibility on school safety, and should trigger a review of his school discipline reforms,” he said. “The mayor is deceiving parents by touting statistics that hide how dangerous city schools really are.”

The Department of Education asserts, however, that the data sets in the state and city reports are substantially different from each other, and that the city’s numbers paint a more accurate picture of how safe New York’s public schools truly are.

“This data is misleading. The total number of incidents at New York City public schools decreased nearly 8 percent last school year to historic lows and crime, arrests and summonses are down across the board,” Toya Holness, the DOE’s deputy press secretary, wrote in an email responding to the information in the report. “Our top priority is to provide a safe and supportive environment for every student, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to keep our students safe.”

The state began collecting school violence data after the passage of the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act of 2000, which required that all school districts in the state record all violent incidents that occur in their schools. In contrast, the city only records incidents in which the NYPD becomes involved. The DOE contends the state’s definition of violent incidents is to broad to represent the actual level of violence in public schools.

Families for Excellent Schools and the de Blasio administration have maintained a fraught relationship since the mayor’s inauguration. The organization is a charter-school advocacy firm, which lobbies state and city officials to increase the number and power of charter schools in the city, and it regularly criticizes the mayor and the DOE. Last year, Families for Excellent Schools spent $3.4 million lobbying Albany officials on behalf of charter schools, according to a recent investigation by Politico New York.

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