Forest Hills school under fire for handcuffing girl

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The New York Civil Liberties Union took the city to task for last week’s arrest, handcuffing and suspension of a 12-year-old female student at a Forest Hills junior high school after she was caught doodling her name in erasable marker on her desk, NYCLU officials said.

Alexa Gonzalez, a student at JHS 190 in Forest Hills, was arrested and detained for hours Feb. 2, according to the NYCLU, which has vehemently criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration for what it said is the NYPD’s frequent use of excessive force against school-age children.

“This should be a wake-up call to the mayor, the City Council and the [city] Department of Education,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “There is a crisis in our schools because they put the police in charge of routine discipline that ought to be handled by educators.”

A city Department of Education spokeswoman said the “principal made a mistake and has lifted the suspension.” Gonzalez is returning to classes, and the principal is reaching out to the girl’s mother, according to the spokeswoman.

Gonzalez, of Kew Gardens, was arrested after writing on her desk in lime green erasable marker, according to reports. Lieberman said it is not unusual to see an over-the-top response to behavior that seems to warrant little more than a reprimand from school officials.

“It would be just alarming if this were the first time,” Lieberman said. “The Department of Education, the Police Department and the mayor are complicit in creating an environment in the schools where instead of using traditional educational approaches to discipline issues, they call in the cops. There’s no excuse for treating our children as criminals for simply being kids.”

The NYCLU two weeks ago filed a class action lawsuit against the city’s use of what it calls excessive force against students, primarily in middle and high schools.

In January 2008, 5-year-old Queens boy Dennis Rivera was handcuffed after throwing a temper tantrum at PS 81 in Ridgewood — to which Lieberman said the city responded by instituting a policy of velour handcuffs for children.

The DOE spokeswoman said they are not commenting on the NYCLU’s allegations or the lawsuit.

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani transferred the power of public safety in the schools from education officials to the NYPD in 1998 and since then more than 5,000 officers have been assigned to schools — about 2,000 more than the number of guidance counselors, Lieberman noted.

“This problem has been escalating under the regime of our mayor,” Lieberman said. “The Bloomberg administration has taken it to new heights.”

The NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau received 2,670 complaints against members of the Police Department’s school safety division from 2002-07, according to the NYCLU.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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