Spitzer Advances School Safety Initiative

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a series of initiatives designed to address the growing problem of school violence.

The initiatives include a curriculum on how to avoid school confrontations, the creation of an experimental student court, new funding for school safety organizations and legislation that will give teachers more authority to control their classrooms.

"School violence cannot be confronted by educators alone," Spitzer said. "We should all be involved in finding solutions to this problem, and we must be willing to try new approaches."

Spitzer's initiatives were praised by New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Alan Lubin, who said: "We are excited that the Attorney General has weighed in on this ongoing problem. Programs that help students to become more respectful and tolerant, and to solve everyday problems peacefully, will help cut down on school violence and improve the learning climate. The attorney general's support for giving teachers the authority to remove chronically disruptive students from their classrooms is welcome. This is a central focus of our efforts to improve school discipline."

The Attorney General's plan includes:

  • Collaboration with teachers and students to inform school communities about tolerance, acceptance and non-violence with the goal of making violence unacceptable. These programs will be implemented at approximately 10 schools statewide beginning later this year.
  • Creation of a model student court at a New York City high school during the 2000-2001 academic year to address bias and violence issues. In the court students will act as judges, jurors and advocates with jurisdiction over low-level infractions.
  • Hosting a school anti-violence conference in Albany in October, 2000. Attendees will include school administrators, teachers, students and a wide range of advocacy groups.

Key elements of the Attorney General's initiative are cooperative ventures with the Center for Court Innovation and the Upstate Center for School Safety to create pilot programs of anti-violence instruction.

John Feinblatt, Director of the Center for Court Innovation said: "Youth courts are all about turning peer pressure on its head and giving teenagers the tools they need to be role models for their peers. The bottom line is that youth have an important role to play in creating safer schools, safer streets and safer communities."

Funding for these efforts will come in part from an antitrust settlement with retailing giant Toys R Us and major toy manufacturers. New York and other states won a $57 million settlement in toys and cash against the companies in a 1998 antitrust case. Earlier this year, the state was required to submit proposals for use of the funds to support initiatives that benefit children. The state will receive $850,000 under the court-approved plan to support the following programs:

  • Reading is Fundamental, $250,000
  • The Books for Kids Foundation, $250,000
  • Upstate Center For School Safety, $200,000
  • The Center for Court Innovation, $100,000
  • $50,000 for the purchase of computers to be distributed to libraries and other facilities around New York.

Spitzer today also proposed school safety legislation that would:

  • Give teachers authority to keep disruptive or violent students from the classroom;
  • Require school districts to adopt a written school safety plan and a code of conduct after holding public hearings;
  • Create a uniform statewide system for reporting violent incidents in schools;
  • Toughen penalties for assaulting a school district employee on school property; and,
  • Establish the new crimes of selling or using firearms on school grounds, with strict penalties.

Spitzer said he intends that his proposals serve as a catalyst for agreement on some form of school safety legislation this year. He noted that the State Assembly and Senate have approved bills addressing school violence in the past, and the Governor has created a task force which has published a report on the issue.