Two weeks ago, a judge found Abel Cedeno guilty of manslaughter for the death of his fellow student Matthew McCree in September 2017, the first homicide in New York City schools in decades. The facts suggest that criminal justice was served; Cedeno provoked a confrontation and pulled out a knife before the deadly altercation began. But the needless death of a teenager demands that we learn the lessons that this tragic case presents.
There are at least three.
The first lesson, as I detailed at length previously, is the dangerous unintended consequences of school discipline reform. Five years before the incident, the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation was thriving; 86 percent of teachers said order was maintained and 80 percent of students felt safe in the hallway. There wasn’t a hint of homophobia; one teacher told me, “Kids who were transgender or gay or lesbian were comfortable. It wasn’t a thing.”
But during the 2014-15 school year, new administrators took command — armed with orders from their bureaucratic superiors to decrease suspensions, per Mayor Bill de Blasio’s directive. They complied quite efficiently, by simply not enforcing rules. One teacher told me that “as teachers, policymakers have made it so we have no authority. Only perceived authority. … Once the kid finds out he can say “F*** you,” flip over a table, and he won’t get suspended, that’s that.”
Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of a new report, Safe and Orderly Schools: Updated Guidance on School Discipline. Follow him on Twitter here.
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