School support staff from across New York descended on their state capital last week to support a package of laws that would make schools safer. With just days left in the legislative session, activists from New York State United Teachers are unleashing passionate arguments for student safety, meeting one-on-one with their lawmakers writing op-eds for newspapers and sharing their solidarity across social media.
In a radio interview explaining the Support School Staff campaign, special education teaching assistant Colleen Condolora of Albany, along with NYSUT President Andrew Pallotta, spoke of the dire need for better oversight and training of school-related professionals, whom Pallotta calls “heroes and heroines.”
The four-part legislation aims to curb workplace violence in schools; place an attendant on every K-6 school bus; install stop-arm cameras on buses to capture illegal driving that endangers kids; and establish due process and fair labor protections for all permanent school employees. To break it down, the bills would:
Extend workplace violence protections to schools
More than a decade ago, New York state passed a law mandating programs to prevent workplace violence—but schools were exempted. Sadly, violence in schools is increasing nationwide. A few states, like Oregon, pressed by the Oregon School Employees Association, already have taken steps to address it. Now, New York school staffers want laws to better protect their students and themselves.
“I never expected that as a high school security guard, I could possibly be injured in ways ranging from cuts and bruises to concussions and broken bones, but that is the reality,” NYSUT activist Karen Arthmann wrote to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, urging state legislators to adopt the Workplace Violence Prevention Act. “While helping to break up a fight or controlling a student who is acting out, serious injuries may result. I love the students I work with and I want them to have a safe learning environment, just as I want that for all of us who work in schools.”
Place attendants on every K-6 bus
School bus drivers shouldn’t be expected to monitor a busload of children and also keep their full attention on the road. Having an attendant onboard will help keep kids safe during the ride. In addition, the attendant would help any child under age 13, or with a disability, get on and off the bus, crossing the street with the child when necessary.
Install cameras on school bus stop arms
In a dangerous trend reflected nationwide, distracted and impatient drivers are passing school buses even when they have lights flashing and stop arms out. Careless drivers pass school buses under these conditions more than 50,000 times a day in New York state alone , NYSUT says. Cameras would record scofflaws so they can be prosecuted.
Set up a fair system of due process
NYSUT is calling for a change to the state’s civil service law to ensure fairness and due process for permanent employees facing disciplinary charges, including noninstructional school support staff.
Other approaches to safety
While NYSUT is promoting measures that reflect a strong consensus among educators, some jurisdictions around the country are exploring other ideas on keeping schools safe. For example, a school district in Lockport, N.Y., planned to test its new $3.8 million system of facial recognition technology as a school safety measure but have put it on hold after state officials raised alarms about student privacy.
And some policymakers continue to call for arming teachers, even though most educators oppose it. AFT President Randi Weingarten explained during a recent podcast on school security why arming teachers is a bad idea, as did AFT member and longtime school safety professional Gary Rose in a column on AFT Voices. In several recent national surveys by Gallup and others, up to 80 percent of educators polled said they oppose arming teachers.
[Annette Licitra/NYSUT photos]