Dr. Jonathan Brice

Talk of the Sound Obtains Advance Copy of Draft Report on School Violence in New Rochelle

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Dr. Jonathon Brice, Chair of the Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth. distributed today a draft of the Task Force report to all Task Force members and solicited feedback from them. Brice also distributed the draft report to the New Rochelle Board of Education, the City Manager and the Mayor in the belief that the report will likely be made public through social media. Brice expects to announce a date for a public meeting to present the recommendations of the Task Force.

The Task Force was broken into four sub-committees: School District, New Rochelle High School, City of New Rochelle, and Community Resource. Each sub-committee presented their top 5 recommendations. Dr. Brice added two of his own recommendations.

The stated purpose of the committee was to provide “specific and actionable recommendations related to the reduction of violence in the lives of New Rochelle children and youth, a review and analysis both of recent incidents and broader trends, recommendations for District and City entities, community partners, civic organizations, parents, and residents, any other comments, records, exhibits, or observations that may help the group achieve its stated mission.”

The Brice Report states that the Task Force deliberately did not discuss the recent spate of school violence resulting in the death of one student and the stabbing of another or the question of whether the District failed to follow its own Closed Campus policy.

The Task Force met as a whole six times between March 1, 2018 and April 30, 2018. Subcommittees had additional discussions on their own. The Task Force did not establish a parliamentary decision-making process such as Robert’s Rules of Order relying instead on “consensus”, leaving it up to Brice to determine the nature of that consensus. The Appendix section of the report shows that there was not consensus on high profile and contentious issues like posting armed school resource officers in New Rochelle High School and a Closed/Open Campus policy at the high school. 

The Brice Report recommends specially trained armed police officers, known as School Resource Officers or SROs in the school and a modified closed campus policy with only seniors in “good standing allowed off campus during the school day. There was a great deal of dissent about SROs. The New Rochelle High School subcommittee recommended the modified closed campus policy. The City committee recommended a closed campus without exceptions.

The Task Force subcommittees made 22 recommendations. The Task Force chair made 2 recommendations:

General Recommendations

  • Update New Rochelle Board of Education Policies
  • Explicitly describe when to involve police matters in the Code of Conduct 

School District Recommendations

  • Recommend that staff are trained and students have access to wellness strategies and practices including implementation of a reflection room in the event of minor behavioral incidents.
  • Cultural competence training for students, staff and parents across the district.
  • Increase educational opportunities for all students with a focus on underrepresented students to include expanding seats in the district gifted education programs (i.e., Kaleidoscope and AP classes). Identify students who show academic potential and strategies as well as programs to prepare students with the skills to be successful beginning in elementary school.
  • Implementation and training for restorative justice for students and staff with fidelity.
  • Increase communication, engagement, and outreach with students, parents and guardians, and staff.

New Rochelle High School Recommendations

  • Revise the student discipline referral process for teachers and administrators.
  • Revise the orientation process for students to include quarterly meetings to relay information, check for their understanding, and create sense of unity among students and staff.
  • Assign a trained and armed School Resource Officer (SRO) on campus with a MOU about how, what, and when school administrators and the SRO work together.
  • The Board of Education will update policy 5520 adopted July 1, 1989 Closed Campus to allow for NRHS to establish a modified open campus for seniors only.
  • All students should wear ID badges and use them to swipe in and out of campus.

City of New Rochelle Recommendations

  • City of New Rochelle and City School District of New Rochelle must invest in and expand student focused programming including diversion programs, peer mediation My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), and Youth Bureau outreach services to be offered until 9 pm weekdays, weekends, and during the summer.
  • Create and implement a process to ensure improved communication, connection and collaboration across relevant city offices with responsibility for supporting youth. Youth serving offices should participate in a monthly youth focused data stat process.
  • Utilize space in public schools and public libraries after school hours for youth programming such as Boys and Girls club of New Rochelle.
  • Hire a consultant to examine school overcrowding at NRHS, impact on traffic in NRHS community, and the use of NRHS campus and current City Hall building.
  • The City of New Rochelle and City School District of New Rochelle should explore new ways to increase funding for youth serving programs through hiring a grant writer and asking developers to create a youth programming fund.

Community Resource Recommendations

  • The City of New Rochelle and New Rochelle Board of Education should access preventative and intervention programs funded by Westchester County including Crisis stabilization and mobile mental health programs.
  • Partner with community-based organizations and county-based agencies for professional development for district teachers, staff, and security staff on unconscious bias, trauma and cultural competence.
  • Hire a Community liaison to strengthen the relationship between district parents and students. Hire parent coordinators for every school, establish community resource guides, host community fairs and events.
  • Ensure all New Rochelle residents have access to affordable mental health, mobile mental health, and after school programs.
  • Expand partnership with local educational institutions to increase support services with schools. For example, if Iona College has a Master’s of Social Worker program bring in students who have to do internships into all of the schools in New Rochelle.

The report expands on each of the recommendations in varying degrees of detail. An Appendix describes all recommendations considered by the subcommittees not included in the final set of recommendations. The report does not list the members of the Task Force or which Task Force members were on which subcommittee.

The Task Force Report covers a lot of ground. There is a focus on cultural competency and implicit bias training.

Once observation sure to rankle is the claim that “Each year, each feeder school moves up a large number of students who are reading / doing math well below grade level.”

Another is criticism of the special education department and its budget, raised as an issue by school board member Amy Moselhi in expressing her opposition to the proposed school budget. 

The report references a possible “review of what each building currently offers and, what each building needs to help special education students make annual yearly progress.” As Talk of the Sound has noted many times before, the term AYP does not mean ANNUAL yearly progress but rather ADEQUATE yearly progress. AYP is a measure of which schools are not failing not which ones are succeeding; 95% of schools in New York State are designated AYP.

Talk of the Sound is apparently blamed for the committee meeting in secret: “The Task Force met and deliberated in private in order to stave off possible negative influence by any media campaign intended to thwart an open discussion of the issues.” 

The two most interesting sections of the draft report are the descriptions of the discussions of School Resource Officers and Closed Campus.

Discussion of School Resource Officers

“The recommendation for a trained and armed SRO was the most contentious

recommendation made by the Task Force and as such deserves a thorough explanation of how the Task Force reached this decision. In support of the recommendation for a trained SRO with an MOU the task force members identified three issues; 1. The need for safety of the NRHS campus, 2.

Training of an SRO, 3. A MOU that clarifies the role of school administrators and police as they work together.”

“NRHS has a significant security presence with approximately 30 full time and part time security staff but even this presence did not prevent a student from being stabbed on campus on January 18,, 2018. Another concern in schools across the country is about preventing and responding to the type of tragedies like the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida. The Task Force concluded that an armed SRO would be a positive addition to NRHS.”

“Opposition to the SRO was vocal, did not reach consensus, but did raise several important concerns that Task Force members agreed should be detailed in this report. Three issues were raised in opposition to trained, armed SRO with an MOU at NRHS: 1. Having an armed officer in the school, 2. The message it sends to students by having an armed officer on campus, 3. Would Black and Latino students be potentially criminalized by police on campus.”

“The opposition to having an armed officer on campus was partly about the fact that the officer would be caring a firearm. A suggestion was made that the officer could carry some other form of less than lethal weapon as they patrolled the campus and worked with students and staff. Having an officer without a firearm on campus was not supported by law enforcement.”

“Another discussion in opposition to the SRO was that the students would feel they were being watched by the SRO and possibly not trusted. It was mentioned that some students would strongly oppose having an armed officer on campus. The views of students are important and any discussion about SRO must include students to explain reasons why or why not they would feel there should be an armed SRO at NRHS.”

“The last point of opposition was about feeling African-American and Latino males, maybe females, could potentially feel criminalized by having a SRO on campus. Given the recent negative interactions between law enforcement officers and African-Americans and Latinos, the concern raised about potential issues with armed police on campus are important to consider.”

“Stephon Clark (Sacramento), Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge), Terrence Crutcher (Tulsa), Philando Castile (Minnesota), Walter Scott (N. Charleston), Tamar Rice (Cleveland), Michael Brown (Ferguson), Eric Garner (New York City). The names mentioned above all died at the hands of law enforcement. The discussion in the room was pointed about not potentially exposing students at NRHS to law enforcement in an environment where students are present to learn, be with their friends, and to just be children.”

“The discussion about SRO led to the eventual task force recommendation to have a SRO trained by a state or national organization, who is armed on campus and with a detailed MOU between the school district and the police department.”

Discussion of Closed Campus

“The Task Force did not spend time exploring whether NRHS had operated as an open campus for lunch. The Task Force believes that NRHS did not strictly enforce board policy 5520. Students, business persons, and communities on the Task Force confirm that students often went to North Avenue businesses for lunch. After the incidents of January 2018 the campus began to strictly enforce board policy 5520. Observation of the cafeteria’s during the three lunch shifts at NHRS reveals that they are crowded and other options must be found for students. There was some discussion in opposing some sort of open campus. Concerns were raised about which students (Freshman through Seniors) would be able to leave campus during lunch, would the students be monitored when on North Avenue, and congestion in the neighborhood.”

“Seniors were chosen as the grade level that should be able to leave campus for lunch. However, the recommendation was not a blanket recommendation for all seniors, but only those seniors in good standing based on criteria determined by the district and NRHS such as good attendance, grades, behavior, etc.”

“If NRHS students are able to leave campus for lunch and frequent businesses on North Avenue who would be responsible for monitoring them while there? One suggestion would be to provide similar coverage at lunch like the coverage recently added after school with members of the Youth Commission positioned along North Avenue. NRHS might also consider having a staff member walking school grounds near the playground to provide additional support. Finally, all students who leave campus for lunch should wear school issued identification badges.”

There is no expected date for the publication of a final report or a presentation of the report at a public meeting. Talk of the Sound has a copy of the report but as it is in draft form we are not releasing it at this time but rather summarizing the key points from it.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include the full draft report.

Task Force Report (Draft) On Reducing Violence In The Lives Of Youth In New Rochelle (PDF)