In 2017, 82 percent of students surveyed in grades 6-12 said there was bullying in their schools, an all-time high, up from 65 percent in 2012

Only one guidance counselor per 375 students and one social worker per 612 students in public schools

In 2016-17 school year, 725 schools serving students across all grades – 45 percent of all schools – had no social worker at all

(New York, NY) — New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer today released a new report outlining the stark state of mental health and social services in our public schools, and data that illustrates a rise in bullying among City students. Comptroller Stringer’s new report, “Safe and Supportive Schools: A Plan to Improve School Climate and Safety in NYC,” presents a review of current data related to school safety – including a jump in bullying, and an alarming level of arrests and handcuffing of students – and from that data draws a series of holistic recommendations on how to make City schools healthier and more secure. Separately, a new audit revealed operational failures in how the City reports violent incidents in schools to the State and evidence of underreporting of these incidents in our audit sample. Based on the findings of the report and the audit, Comptroller Stringer is calling for increased social supports in City schools, an expansion of social-emotional learning advisories to all schools, and universal school-based mental health services.

“This report makes clear that our kids are facing greater social challenges than ever at school, and the City must properly identify the magnitude of the problem and provide additional resources to bring down the conflict and bullying that’s become pervasive. Our young people are yearning for mental health support – we heard it straight from them, and it’s time we address the problem head on,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Schools should be sanctuaries where every child feels safe and supported, but all too often, when students need help, they don’t receive the care they need. We need to improve our school climates with a significant, system-wide investment in order to unleash the potential of every child in this city. That’s why I’m calling for the City to prioritize supporting all students through small group advisories, a proven way to ensure each student has a trusted adult in school they can turn to. The City should also expand universal school-based mental health services. If we’re going to give every child the care and support they deserve, we have to do it right.”

Increased and expanded social services are critical to address the growing prevalence of violence, bullying and punitive action uncovered by the policy report:

  • In 2017, 82 percent of students reported that their peers harass, bully, or intimidate others in their schools, up from 65 percent in 2012, based on student responses to the most recent NYC School Survey.
  • Similarly, roughly one in five students say they personally do not feel safe in or around their school.
  • During the 2016-17 school year, students were handcuffed in over 1,800 incidents – including 120 cases involving children age 12 and under. While recently released data from the first quarter indicates improvement, Black and Latino students continue to be disproportionately impacted.
  • In the first half of the 2017-18 school year, school suspensions increased by 20 percent following several years of decline.
  • Meanwhile, a separate audit by the Comptroller’s Office found DOE failed to record some 21 percent of the sampled “violent or disruptive” incidents in school year 2015-2016 in its incident database, based on a sample of 10 middle and high schools. As a result, these incidents were not considered for inclusion in mandatory reports to the State.
  • The separate audit also found that DOE did not consistently track the necessary disciplinary and referral action information needed to properly assess whether certain incidents should be reported to the State.

Research shows that punitive actions like suspensions have severe impacts on students’ academic outcomes and significantly increase the likelihood that a student will not complete high school or will become involved in the criminal justice system. The City’s ThriveNYC program provides a laudible baseline of mental health support for schools, however there remains an acute need for more mental health professionals in schools to help resolve conflicts and support students. As it is, city schools are vastly under-resourced. Our report found:

  • There is only one guidance counselor per 375 students and only one social worker per 612 students in our public school system.
  • In the 2016-17 school year, 725 schools serving students across all grades – 45 percent of all schools – had no social worker at all.
  • According to student surveys, 17 percent of students feel there is no adult in their school in whom they can confide.

In response, Comptroller Stringer’s report calls for expanding small group advisories, increasing in-school social workers and other critical staff as well as mental health services to accommodate students’ needs.

The Comptroller’s Office simultaneously released an audit of the Department of Education. Under state law, the DOE is required to report certain “violent and disruptive incidents” in schools to the state’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Report (VADIR) system, including minor altercations, episodes of intimidation or harassment, as well as assault, weapons possession and sexual offenses. The system is intended to capture data on the initial disruptive or violent incidents, and the school’s follow-up procedure, which may include suspension, removal, or referral to guidance counselors, among other actions taken.

The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken. Specifically, the audit found that across all City public schools, 1,553 schools reported a total of 41,559 incidents – ranging from 1 to 271 incidents per school. 44 schools reported no incidents. The audit also includes a deeper analysis based on a sample of 10 schools – key findings reveal a lack of reporting and conflicting records from School Safety Records, the City’s tracking system and the state’s VADIR tracking system. Significantly, DOE had no records of corrective action in 83 percent of required student behavioral incidents, including nearly 400 incidents that were classified as serious infractions.

Comptroller Stringer’s report lays out a series of comprehensive recommendations for improving school safety and climate and reducing the high economic and social cost to the City of current disciplinary practices. Recommendations include:

  • Expand small social-emotional learning advisories in all schools, which are known to be a highly effective way to support students’ social-emotional learning and to ensure that each student has at least one adult in school they can turn to in times of need. Students who have a trusted group of peers and at least one adult to confide in have greater academic outcomes as well as more positive social attitudes and behaviors.
  • Expand the ranks of in-school social workers and other mental health professionals, who are best equipped to respond to emotional or behavioral crises.
  • Clarify the role of School Safety Agents and update the Memorandum of Understanding that governs DOE’s relationship with NYPD to clearly outline appropriate interventions for specific scenarios involving student misconduct.
  • Fund a Comprehensive Mental Health support continuum to provide direct service and targeted interventions for the highest need students and schools including hospital-based mental health partnerships, mobile response teams, and school-based mental health care.
  • Establish and oversee system-wide trauma-informed schools to tackle problems consistent with the chronic stresses of poverty. As trauma can severely disrupt a student’s academic potential, the DOE should support educators in taking a trauma-informed approach to students, to recognize signs of trauma and understand how to positively respond in a non-violent and respectful way to students. Results from the Positive Learning Collaborative pilot indicate measurable school climate improvements in schools that provide intensive training and support to school staff to prevent and de-escalate crisis situations.
  • Expand and baseline funding to implement restorative practices system-wide, which requires investment for embedded school-based capacity-building and implementation.

To read Comptroller Stringer’s full report, click here.

To read Comptroller Stringer’s full audit, click here.

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