2001-05-30 / Editorials

Editorial Tell Cops Of School Crimes

Tell Cops Of School Crimes

Any doubt that a proposal by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for legislation requiring schools and staff to report crimes involving the health and safety of a child to police immediately upon learning of them and making anyone who knowingly fails to file such a report guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by possibly a year in jail and a fine of as much as $1,000 is urgently needed should be quickly allayed by news stories which appeared on the city's media last week.

Two girls claim to have been molested in a stairwell at a Bronx school by two teenage boys. The girls, 11 and 12 years old, reported the incident to school authorities and the school's assistant principal reported the incident to the deputy director for pupil personnel of the chancellor's district (the school is a low-performing Community School under Schools Chancellor Harold Levy's direct supervision.) According to reports, the board official told the assistant principal, "Don't call 911--investigate it yourself." More than 24 hours after the alleged incident occurred an outraged stepparent finally called police.

Were this the only report of such alleged official indifference, the legislation--which had the backing of City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, among others--would still be urgently needed. What brought about Giuliani's call to mandate bringing police in on investigations of crimes against students in city schools, however, were several other instances of abuse recently brought to light in the news media. One involved an intermediate school teacher in The Bronx--said to be HIV-positive--who allegedly sexually abused several boys in his classes over a period of years. Another concerned a teacher at Queens high schools who sexually abused a female student; we reported on this case in last week's edition. On other occasions boys have abused girls, students have abused others of their own gender and students have abused teachers. In many of the cases, administrators did not report such incidents to the central Board for referral to Edward F. Stancik, special commissioner of investigation for the New York City school district. The results were always the same--the case went nowhere. "Over the years my office has repeatedly reported on the problem of educators failing to notify the police about criminal activity in the schools," Stancik complained.

Sexual abuse is not always the worst thing that can happen in a school, either. A student at Newtown H.S. in Elmhurst was stabbed in a stairwell in an incident that may be gang-related. And a nine-year-old girl, a student at a Brooklyn elementary school, died after getting in a fight with another girl the same age in a school bathroom. While the girl's death may in part be attributed to the asthma which had afflicted her all her short life, her death and the serious wounding of the Newtown H.S. student are still crimes and should be so regarded.

Police officers on numerous occasions have assured us that no matter how trivial an incident may seem, its reporting may provide one piece of a larger puzzle that can lead to an arrest. "It's never a waste of time to tell us about something," they say. Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, is well aware of how essential investigation of a crime, any crime, by trained investigators can be to the crime's ultimate solution. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik agrees. "This legislation ensures that crimes committed in our schools will be handled by the same experts that made New York the safest large city in America," he declared. "The NYPD has the best officers and detectives in the world, but they can't do their job unless they are notified immediately after an offense occurs. With the passage of this bill, calling a law enforcement professional at the outset of a school-related crime won't just be good common sense--it will be the law."

Children from pre-kindergarten through high school cannot possibly settle to their lessons if they attend schools where they are afraid to go to the bathroom or walk the halls alone in the course of an average day. The word "education" has its roots in the Latin educere--to lead out, one hopes out of the darkness of ignorance into knowledge and understanding. To shine the light of prompt and thorough investigation on wrongdoing in the schools--no matter by whom--can only create an atmosphere in the schools of this city in which true education can take place.

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