Council, de Blasio reach deal to hire security guards for non-public schools

From Politico

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday afternoon that they’ve reached a $19.8 million deal on a bill that would require the city to pay to hire security guards at private schools.

The measure, sponsored by Councilman David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat, would provide at least one private security guard in non-public schools, including yeshivas and other religious schools with 300 or more students.

"Nothing is more important than our children's safety. This legislation recognizes that all children, regardless of where they go to school, deserve to learn in a safe environment,” Greenfield said in a statement.

In a separate statement, de Blasio said: "We’re pleased we could work productively with Speaker Mark-Viverito, Councilman Greenfield and their colleagues on an initiative that gives the administration the flexibility to develop a program that recognizes community needs, while addressing administration concerns about diverting critical police resources. This will be a targeted and fiscally responsible effort that will bolster security where it’s most appropriate."

This is the first time religious and non-public schools will receive taxpayer-funded security.

The compromise achieves much, but not all, of what Greenfield's originally called for.

Each non-public school will receive an additional security guard from a "state licensed security guard agency,” according to the legislation. The guards will be privately contracted employees, not NYPD school safety officers, an effort to assuage concerns top NYPD officials expressed earlier this summer.

As recently as April, both the Department of Education and New York Police Departmentopposed the bill, with officials for each department citing budget and staffing concerns. Assistant NYPD Chief Brian Conroy said at the time that the use of additional NYPD school safety agents in non-public schools could "potentially compromise public safety" by spreading the city's limited number of safety agents too thin.

The DOE has been under pressure from civil liberties advocates to reform the role of NYPD safety agents in schools as the de Blasio administration has vowed to lower school suspensions and change the city's school discipline code. The New York Civil Liberties Union recently settled a lawsuit with the city over alleged abuse from safety agents.

De Blasio had been non-committal about the bill, saying over the summer that he was open to a “dialogue” about how to best protect New York City children.

The deal announced Wednesday is the second time in less than two months in which the Council has successfully swayed the de Blasio administration into supporting a bill that had overwhelming support in the Council but was not outright supported by the administration.

“This first-of-its kind program in New York City is going to help keep children in private schools safe,” Mark-Viverito said. “The New York City Council is proud to lead on this landmark public safety measure and we look forward to its implementation.”

According to the bill, the city will cap spending on the program at $19.8 million, significantly less than the $39 million Greenfield originally said the initiative would require. Greenfield said earlier this year the $39 million would cover safety agents at 233 Catholic schools, 212 Jewish schools, 66 other religiously-affiliated schools and 138 other non-public schools.

De Blasio and Council members have faced significant pressure from religious leaders and organizations on the bill over the last several months. In a letter to de Blasio in June, Cardinal Timothy Dolan urged the mayor to fund "the safety of the children of our city." Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams also advocated for the bill, calling it “the right thing in the right time.”

A coalition of rabbis sent a similar letter the same week, and Greenfield convened a large rally on the steps of City Hall with dozens of students and administrators from parochial schools, who said they worried about religiously-motivated violence in their schools. As of this summer, the majority of the Council — 45 of 51 members — had pledged their support for the bill.

The Council is expected to formally vote on the measure in December.