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New York

Community members carve out a role in school guards' training

School safety agents participated in a community-run training session in the Bronx earlier this year. When Lynn Sanchez, a Bronx parent activist, challenged police and education officials to address persistent school climate problems during a public forum on school safety last year, she did not think they would say yes. And yet just months later, Sanchez was sitting with safety agents during one of their training sessions — which, for the first time, community members and advocates were helping to lead. She saw a long-standing vision of collaboration coming together in that room. “We have to make sure everyone is on same page — we have to include school safety officers, teachers, principals, paras, students, and parents — in order for a school climate to change,” Sanchez said. The community-run training sessions represent a striking shift in the city’s strategy for preparing safety agents to work in schools, where their role has historically been fraught. While the Bloomberg administration has famously considered principals to be the CEOs of their schools, principals’ authority does not extend to safety agents, who since 1998 have been under the authority of the New York Police Department in an arrangement that advocates say breeds tension. The quiet shakeup so far has taken place only in a corner of the Bronx, where community groups were able to persuade the police department to let them play a role in the training of 450 agents, and its future is far from certain. But students, educators, and advocates say they are confident that the approach could go a long way toward easing some of the tensions that have plagued city schools, and a small-scale expansion of the first round of trainings appears to be in the works.