Opinion: School Safety

School Safety Op-Ed

By Petra Milter

Over the past few years, I’ve seen the name “Osman Couey” come up a lot in the local news. The Harlem teacher has repeatedly made headlines as a child abuser, accused of hurting numerous students at PS 194.The first time I read about Couey’s violent behavior, back in 2013, I was horrified. It made me sick that an educator would victimize an innocent child, and it made me even sicker to learn that he would be allowed to keep his job after the incident.
Sure enough, Couey assaulted another student, Ka’veon Wilson, in 2015. He was finally arrested in February for the 2015 attack and is currently serving a 30-day sentence at Rikers, but wasn’t taken off the payroll at PS 194 until last Thursday.
As a mother, this breaks my heart and makes me furious. Couey should have been removed from the classroom years ago, but teachers’ union rules protected his job at the expense of students’ safety. The fact that district schools in New York City are run this way is unacceptable. It’s also why I chose a public charter school for my sons Beniah and Micaiah.
Like any parent, my children’s safety is the most important thing to me in the world. I can protect them when we’re together, but when they go to school I have to put their well-being in the hands of others. Fortunately, Beniah and Micaiah are at a school where I know that they’re taken care of. They attend South Bronx Classical One, a public charter school in the South Bronx, and I’ve never had any doubts about their safety.
But this wasn’t always the case. Before Beniah and Micaiah won the lottery to attend SBC One, I thought that I would have to send them to a district school in our neighborhood. Given the number of violent incidents that happen at city district schools every year, and given the stories I had heard from other Bronx parents, I was terrified. I worried that my sons would spend their school years in an unsafe environment, and I also worried that they would end up with a teacher like Osman Couey.
So, I sent applications for Beniah and Micaiah to public charter schools in our area and prayed that they would get in. Even before setting foot in SBC One, I knew that city charter schools would be a safer environment for my children than district schools, and that they would never allow a violent teacher to remain in the classroom.
As it turns out, I was right. Charter schools in New York City have seen far fewer violent incidents than district schools over the past few years, and have seen an overall decrease in violence. This trend has confirmed my faith in public charter schools, as have my children’s experiences at SBC One. Beniah and Micaiah have never felt unsafe in the classrooms or hallways of their school, and have never dealt with a teacher who was anything but kind. I’ve spoken to other parents at SBC One and at other public charter schools, and they all feel the same way.
Unfortunately, not every parent has had my good fortune. Thousands of families have applied for spots at public charter schools, hoping to move their child into a safer school, but are still on waiting lists. The reason that public charter schools don’t have enough room to accept all of these children is clear: city leaders are biased against them, and have prevented them from getting the resources they need to grow. Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education prefer district schools that have relationships with teachers’ unions — like PS 194, where Osman Couey taught.
This is wrong, plain and simple. The Mayor and the DOE have helped create a crisis of school violence and then given families no way to escape it. Until something changes, I fear that more children will find themselves in the shoes of Ka’veon Wilson and Couey’s other victims.
No student deserves to suffer at the hands of a teacher, and every family deserves to send their kids to a school they know is safe. Mayor de Blasio and his administration must act now to make sure parents have this safety option by giving public charter schools the chance to grow and by pulling abusive teachers out of district school classrooms. Osman Couey’s arrest and removal from payroll were long overdue, but they should still serve as a wake-up call for New York City.
Petra Milter is a Bronx parent of two children enrolled at South Bronx Classical One.
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