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Class Action Says Students Abused in NYC

BROOKLYN (CN) -New York Police Department personnel assigned to the city's public middle schools and high schools have a long-standing pattern of abuse, unlawful arrests and excessive force against minority students who commit even minor infractions like talking back, being late for class or having a cell phone in school, a federal class action claims.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of five middle school and high school students who say they were physically abused and wrongfully handcuffed and arrested at school by the NYPD's School Safety Division.

"Aggressive policing is stripping thousands of New York City students of their dignity and disrupting their ability to learn," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. "We all want safe schools for our children, but the current misguided system promotes neither safety nor learning.:

The lawsuit says school safety officers "push, shove, grab, punch and strike students," and then handcuff them and either place them in seclusion rooms on school grounds or transport them to a local precinct for booking.

"These policies and practices generate fear, distrust and even violence within the schools," the lawsuit states.

One student said she was handcuffed for drawing on a classmate's desk with erasable markers. She says she was told she could not call her mother during a pat-down search that included a search through her book bag. The girl says she was taken to a local police precinct, still in handcuffs.

Another student claimed her arm was twisted and she was handcuffed for refusing to enter a school as ordered after being threatened by classmates. She says she was handcuffed, and that a school safety officer than tripped her, causing her to fall stomach-first onto the floor.

Another student says she was involved in a fight with a school safety officer after officials insisted going through her bag after she sounded the metal detector while entering the school. She says she was put in a head-lock, arrested and taken to the local precinct.

Yet another student says he was punched more than five times by school officers after he was wrongly accused of bringing a cell phone to school.

The lawsuit says school officers are inadequately trained and poorly supervised in their efforts to ensure the safety of the approximately 450,000 students in New York City's public middle schools and high schools.

Since the NYPD took control of public school safety in New York City in 1998, the number of police personnel assigned to patrol public schools has grown by 73 percent, with more than 5,000 school safety officers and nearly 200 armed officers currently assigned to city's public schools, the NYCLU says.

That makes it the nation's fifth-largest police force, according to the lawsuit.

The NYCLU says it has received nearly 2,700 complaints against school safety officers from 2002 to June 2007, at a rate of about 500 complaints each year.

The lawsuit seeks sweeping reforms in the New York City public school system, including mandatory training of school safety officers.

It also seeks a revision of the policies regarding how officers who commit abuses are disciplined, including having them removed from future contact with children when necessary.

Along with the City of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Asst. Chief James Secreto and Sgt. Roslyn Downing-Lee were named as defendants.

The lawsuit was filed by Arthur Eisenberg with the NYCLU, Catherine Kim with the ACLU, and Joshua Colangelo-Brian with Dorsey Whitney.

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