Student mentor barred over metal detector

NEW YORK — Mario Rodriguez received a call at work from his 17-year-old daughter who should have been in class at the Community School for Social Justice (CSSJ) in the Bronx. On March 21, New York City police officers had detained his daughter and another student for refusing a metal detector scan at the school.

“I was concerned and annoyed. I was afraid she would be arrested or something would happen to her,” Rodriguez said.

New York City uses “roving” metal detectors that appear at various schools without warning, bringing 30-plus armed police and School Safety Agents into a school and at times causing many-hour delays in class schedules and lower attendance.

Rodriguez’s daughter refused, saying she did not want to be frisked or searched by the adult men, a violation of school policy. She and another student were interrogated and threatened with arrest, spending hours in a room with the police and, at times, with no teacher or administrator present. Finally, the students were allowed to call their parents in order to go home.

The same morning, Karim Lopez, who worked full-time at the school as an after-school program coordinator, brought New York Civil Liberties Union representatives to the school to observe the procedures. He was detained, the observers were removed, and later Lopez was barred from school property indefinitely.

What happened at CSSJ is not an isolated incident. Student rights activists say that such scenarios have become common since 1998 when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani put armed police and metal detectors in NYC schools.

According to a recent civil liberties report titled “Criminalizing the Classroom: the Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” 88 schools have permanent metal detectors, affecting 93,411 students every day. This is in addition to the roving metal detectors.

The report documents numerous incidents of police abuse of students, faculty and even administrators. Harassment, inappropriate touching and arrests for violation of school rules have become commonplace. And a pattern of retaliation against students and staff who resist extreme police measures or exert their rights has emerged.

On March 29, CSSJ students and supporters held a spirited rally on the steps of the Department of Education demanding the reinstatement of Lopez and an end to the metal detectors. One student read the details of the school code pertaining to police, metal detectors and searches that states students can refuse scans in favor of other search methods by school officials.

City Council member Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee, told the students that based on their testimony, “I believe Karim Lopez did nothing wrong.”

Parents want openness and transparency in the schools, Jackson said. They want to witness “how children are being treated by school safety officers, NYPD, by teachers and administrators.”

ldellapiana @cpusa.org