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Controversy Erupts Over Use Of 'Warning Cards' For NYC Public School Students Who Commit Low-Level Offenses

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The de Blasio administration said its new method of tackling crime in schools is working, but there was criticism Tuesday evening about giving students "warning cards" instead of criminal summonses for some low-level offenses.

CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer looked at both sides of the paper punishment.

A big bag of marijuana and a scale were recently confiscated from a city high school student who was clearly intending to sell it. School safety union officials claim the punishment was a warning card issued by the NYPD rather than a criminal summons.

It is the de Blasio administration's new way of dealing with what it calls low-level offenses.

"The message it sends to students is they can get away with anything," said Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237 representing school safety agents.

Floyd said the warning card, which is supposed to be issued for disorderly conduct or unlawful possession of marijuana, is paper punishment. Parents do not have to sign it, and unless the school calls, they may not even know about it.

"Allowing children just to get away with it with a hand slap only leads to bigger things," Floyd said. "We're just breeding potential criminals."

The union is especially upset that the principals in the 71 schools that have the program, including Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the Upper West Side, were told in a March 30, 2017 Department of Education memo that under no circumstances are they to "maintain a record of the warning card or maintain a copy of the warning card."

School advocate and parent Leonie Haimson said she would not want her kids arrested for marijuana.

"Sending, you know, kids into to prison only makes the problem worse," said Haimson, of the group Class Size Matters.

But Haimson does not agree with the policy of no record keeping.

"I would be against that," she said, "I'm for full transparency."

But there are two sides to every issue. Dana Kaplan of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice said a pilot program at 37 schools last year was so successful in reducing violent crime – like murder, rape and robbery – that it was expanded this spring.

"The seven major crimes in those schools went down 48 percent," Kaplan said. "Criminal summonses went down 14 percent overall."

Kaplan said while students did not get a potentially crippling criminal record, they were still disciplined.

"There were still interventions, whether it was a meeting with the guidance counselor, a substance abuse prevention intervention worker – there's still some consequence," she said.

"It's a good idea; more, like, appropriate," added Martin Luther King Jr. High School sophomore Gabriel Mekonen. "You still get in trouble; less harsh."

But Jeremy Romero, also a sophomore at the school, said the program does have potential for abuse.

"Some people, they take advantage of that, so they're like, they'll start problems for no reason," Romero said.

A Department of Education representative pointed out that during the pilot program, student suspensions decreased by nearly 6 percent.

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