The Jersey City United Board of Education team, which consists of Luis Felipe Fernandez, Matt Schapiro and Asmaa Abdalla, called for school reforms to benefit student safety and productivity during a press conference yesterday.
“First of all, we want to talk about calming dangerous streets in and around every school in Jersey City. [In] the last two years, six students have been killed in Hudson County streets. And that is something that is very unacceptable,” said Fernandez.
“We have a policy that is very simple: not one more child,” he added, with a crowd of about 10 supports chiming in “no more.”
Fernandez’s remarks come days after 11-year-old George Gonzalez, a BelovED Charter School student, was killed by a jitney bus near the intersection of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Neptune Avenue.
As a result, new community activist group Safe Streets JC hosted a walk on Sunday, urging local leaders to make the thoroughfare more pedestrian safe through stricter enforcement of the speed limits, among other things.
“Due to gang and gun violence, too many of our stands cannot travel to school safely. Safe routes to school mobilize community members to stand on dangerous streets: safe routes build community power,” added Schapiro.
“We also believe that schools inside should be safer. And we believe that schools around this community should model their programs on Lincoln High School’s successful ‘Restorative Justice’ program.”
San Diego notably implemented the Restorative Justice program, which has a student who has done something wrong meet with their victim(s) to understand and fix the conflict, in their schools a few years ago (Voice of San Diego).
While the program has been well received, it is being rolled out slowly due to the fact that school budgets do not have money in their budgets for the new programs.
Abdalla, as she has previously noted, talked about how out of school suspensions are harmful to students.
“Out of schools suspensions harm the students who most need help. Those suspensions disproportionately affect students of color and they disrupt classroom time for student who are academically struggling. And they lead to students dropping out of schools without improvement in their behavior,” she said.
“The district out of school suspension rate has declined 38 percent between 2012 and 2015. We will build on that progress by setting a clear policy: no out of school suspensions for students in elementary school.”
Taking questions from Hudson County View, Schapiro said that while it would be great to see the Jersey City public schools pay for more bus routes for students, it really isn’t the issue at hand here.
“I think that we’re focused on really how to best motivate our communities to be partners in student safety. It would be great if the school district could find additional busing, but busing is generally not the answer to these issues,” he said.
“The answers are, and what parents have been telling us, is that students and families need safer routes to school: they need to feel comfortable on their way to school. So we’re proposing these ideas in order to help communities, schools, in the district work together so we can provide these for our families.”
Fernandez also stressed parent and community leaders coming together on topics such as pedestrian safety and bullying.
On that subject, Abdalla said counseling for students being bullied is a necessity, adding that suspensions do not help in resolving the core problems in these scenarios.
The press conference was held across the street from the Whitey M. Young Jr. Community School No. 15, commonly simply referred to as P.S. 15, which is located on 135 Stegman St. – a street that has dealt with its fair share of violent crime over the years.
This was their second initiative about improving public schools, the first one pushing for “community connected schools” last month.