Department of Education Kicks Streetsblog out of Media Event Instead of Answering Question on School Street Safety
The city Department of Education’s months of silence on the dangers children face walking to and from school continued on Thursday, with the department going so far as to escort a Streetsblog reporter from a DOE media event after he tried to ask the schools chancellor a question on the issue.
For months, Streetsblog has been seeking a comment from the department on data showing that streets near city public schools are uniquely dangerous, with car crashes and injuries that exceed city averages, especially around schools with majority students of color.
But the agency has refused to talk about the issue, declining to answer questions or make any officials available for an interview and, most recently, having security escort a Streetsblog reporter from DOE headquarters after a press conference.
Parents and advocates criticized Banks and the DOE for refusing to even discuss the issue, let alone take action on it.
“I think they just don’t care,” Geo Marin, whose daughter was killed by a driver as she walked to school in Queens in 2016, told Streetsblog on Thursday. “If one of these politicians were to lose a kid the way I did, action would be taken.”
He called Banks’s silence on the issue “deplorable.”
On Thursday, the agency held a media question-and-answer session with Chancellor David Banks, but declined to call on Streetsblog Investigative Reporter Jesse Coburn, so Coburn approached Banks after the event and said he’d like to ask the chancellor a question. But Banks walked away after hearing the request without answering, and DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer sought to physically restrain Coburn.
Coburn asked Styer why the DOE has nothing to say about children being hit by cars outside DOE schools. Styer swatted down Coburn’s audio recorder and walked away. A DOE security guard then escorted Coburn out of the building.
The agency’s obfuscation on the issue began months ago, when the department’s press office did not respond to a list of questions for Streetsblog’s six-month schools investigation or make any DOE officials available for an interview, despite Chancellor Banks’s many public statements about the importance of keeping students safe, at least inside school buildings.
Streetsblog then sought DOE’s comment on three subsequent stories on the issue. Each time, DOE referred questions to the Department of Transportation, even when the questions were about DOE policies and Chancellor Banks’s thoughts on the issue.
Nor was Thursday the first time the chancellor has ignored in-person questions on the topic. Coburn approached Banks after a press conference this summer with the same question, and once again Banks walked away without answering, saying he wouldn’t discuss school street safety at that time.
Good government advocate Rachael Fauss said DOE’s responsibility to keep students safe extends to the streets outside schools.
“To not answer basic questions from the press about street safety around schools shows a lack of acknowledgement about the scope of the DOE’s responsibilities, enabling finger-pointing and creating a vacuum of accountability,” said Fauss, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.
DOE spokesman Michael Vaughn did not comment on the department’s decision to remove Coburn from the media event on Thursday, saying only in a statement: “We work hard to ensure the safety of our students, families, and staff. That includes working closely with other city agencies to address safety issues in the immediate areas around schools.”
For its investigation earlier this year, Streetsblog studied data on nearly one million car crashes in New York City from July 2015 through November 2021, and built a database of every collision that occurred within 250 feet of a city-run public school. This analysis revealed:
- On school days, streets near schools are more dangerous on average than other city streets. During the 8 a.m. hour, when hundreds of thousands of children stream into 1,600 city-run public schools, there are 57 percent more crashes and 25 percent more injuries per mile on streets near schools than on the city’s other streets. This disparity largely disappears on days when schools are closed.
- Streets are especially dangerous outside schools where most students are poor or children of color. In the 2019 school year, for example, the rate of people injured by drivers on school days was 43 percent higher outside school buildings where a majority of students were brown or Black than outside school buildings with majority-white students. Crashes are more common too. These disparities have existed for years.
- Drivers crash nearly 50 times and injure a dozen people near city public schools during the average day when schools are open. That’s a crash every 29 minutes and an injury every two hours. The chaos peaks during the hours when children arrive at school in the morning and leave in the afternoon. At those times, there is a crash near a school every 17 minutes and an injury every 72 minutes.
Streetsblog also found that drivers have killed at least 24 children heading to or from school on foot or bike in New York City in the past decade, according to news reports. In light of such stats, Families for Safe Streets member Dana Lerner said the aggressive response by DOE to Coburn’s questions was “incredibly disappointing.”
“Sixteen kids have been killed in car crashes so far this year, more than double the number killed last year by this point in the year and higher than any full year since 2014. This is a crisis,” said Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed in the crosswalk by a taxi driver in 2014. “Vision Zero has always depended on collaboration across a wide range of city agencies. The DOE has a unique ability to help make streets safe near schools and during this current crisis they need to come to the table and help save lives.”
Unlike Banks, former Chancellor Richard Carranza spoke about the importance street safety outside schools.
Students’ “ability to safely travel to and from school is being threatened,” Carranza wrote in an op-ed for Streetsblog in 2018 that called for New York State legislators to reauthorize the city’s school-zone speed camera program.
“It’s a matter of life and death,” Carranza wrote.