STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (PIX11) — They’re responsible for keeping one million students across New York City safe every day, but their ability to do so is being compromised — again, according to a group of elected officials and public safety activists who advocated for school safety agents on Friday.
Specifically, the group, which hosted a news conference in Staten Island, was vocally critical of the city’s recent decision to end a school safety agent program for 250 recruits abruptly.
The union that represents school safety agents, or SSAs, agreed that the suspension of the training program compromises students’ safety and said that it also has other shortcomings.
The safety lapse is generally due to lower numbers in recent years, said the elected officials, activists, and union leaders.
A senior teacher agreed on Monday outside Curtis High School in Staten Island.
“I feel bad for the safety agents,” said Jason Bresowsky, “because there’s maybe three or four in the building that could probably use nine or ten [of them].”
Bresowsky is an English teacher and the parent of three students who have attended the New York City public school system.
His comment reflected the system-wide numbers, which show a marked decline in SSAs since the pandemic began.
According to the New York City Independent Budget Office, there were about 3,900 school safety agents as of the last count.
By contrast, there were 5,100 SSAs just before the pandemic began during the 2019 – 2020 academic year.
Bresowsky, the senior teacher and parent, said that when there were more SSAs, processes for keeping students safe, including coordination and communication among agents, teachers, students, and families, were better.
“I guess the system saw that it was working, so they reduced the numbers,” said Bresowsky, “which is not unusual for the City of New York, that takes away things that work.”
Participants in the Monday morning news conference echoed his concern. The conference was organized by New York State Assemblymember Michael Tanoussis, a Republican representing the Eastern Shore of Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn.
“We are asking the mayor to reinstate the class of 250 safety agents,” Tanoussis said, “so they can be put back in our schools.”
Various elected officials joined him, including Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella.
After the event, the union president representing SSAs, Teamsters Local 237, said that the city’s move to shut down the training program made the situation worse in various ways.
“People who quit their jobs to become safety agents were left without a job that day,” said Local 237 President Greg Floyd. “They were unemployed.”
He said it happened about three weeks ago and is now getting attention. On the day it happened, a staff member informed him that the city declared that the program was over, no questions asked.
He added that, in addition to the 250 SSAs who will not be trained, about 250 SSAs are also ready for retirement.
“So that creates a 500 school safety agent shortage,” Floyd said.
The Adams Administration would not say why the training was suddenly cut. Both City Hall and the Department of Education said that the NYPD had to comment since the SSAs fall under the police department’s purview.
The NYPD stated a spokesperson:
Each day, School Safety Agents work diligently to enhance the quality of New York City public education by maintaining a safe and secure environment in the city’s public schools. While NYPD looks forward to welcoming the next School Safety Agent class, we are fully confident that our current agents will continue to provide security and ensure the safety of students, faculty and visitors in New York City Public School buildings.NYPD spokesperson
At the Thursday morning news conference, some speakers attributed the abrupt suspension of the SSA training program to the costs of the city dealing with the migrant crisis.
However, the event organizer said, “The mayor’s office has not confirmed that this is the result of budget cuts. “