NYC Schools Handcuff and Haul Away Kids in Emotional Crisis

In a recent piece for THE CITY that was produced in partnership with ProPublica, Abigail Kramer reports on “thousands” of 911 calls per year for New York City schoolchildren in mental and emotional distress — despite a previous city pledge to stop relying on police in such cases: 

“. . . . New York City officials have promised for years to stop relying on police to respond to students in emotional crisis. Under the terms of a 2014 legal settlement, schools are only supposed to call 911 in the most extreme situations, when kids pose an “imminent and substantial risk of serious injury” to themselves or others.

And yet an investigation by THE CITY and ProPublica found that city schools continue to call on safety agents and other police officers to manage students in distress thousands of times each year — incidents the NYPD calls “child in crisis” interventions. Unless a parent arrives in time to intercede, cops hand kids off to EMTs, who take students to hospital emergency rooms for psychiatric evaluations. In close to 1,370 incidents since 2017, students ended up in handcuffs while they waited for an ambulance to arrive, according to NYPD data. In several incidents, those kids were 5 or 6 years old.

Ten years ago, in the runup to the 2014 settlement, a group of parents sued the city’s Department of Education, claiming that schools violated their children’s constitutional rights and broke federal law by sending them to hospitals when they weren’t experiencing medical emergencies — in many cases in response to behavior that resulted directly from a student’s disability.

The experience was traumatic and humiliating for the kids, the plaintiffs claimed. Students were terrified to return to school; 6- and 7-year-olds thought they were being arrested. Two schools filed child welfare reports on parents who didn’t allow EMTs to put their children in ambulances.

Meanwhile, the hospital visits served no useful purpose, plaintiffs claimed. Students missed crucial class time only to wait for hours in emergency rooms — sometimes with seriously mentally ill adults — and then be sent home. At least one parent lost her job because she was repeatedly forced to leave work to rush to the hospital, and then she was stuck with bills for ambulance trips and ER services her child didn’t need.”

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