When Minerva Dickson (pictured in yellow skirt) first saw her high school she thought it looked like a prison. After her first week she realized how right her initial impressions were.
Every day when she arrived at the Thomas Jefferson Campus in Brownsville, Brooklyn, she waited in a line that snaked out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. She would shuffle up two steps passing beneath words from Abraham Lincoln inscribed on the neo-classical pediment: “Let Reverence for the Laws Become the Political Religion of the Nation.”
Next, she reached into her pocket for her identification card and slid it through a machine. When it recognized her, it blurted an approving beep and a green light would flash. When it didn’t, the machine made an abrasive buzzing noise and lit up red.
Clear of the reader, she headed to the metal detectors. There, at least a half dozen school safety agents waited. School safety agents, who answer to the New York City Police Department, wear a police uniform and a shield. A pair of handcuffs dangles from their belts.
Under their gaze, Dickson would remove her jewelry, hairpins, and shoes. She would place her purse and her backpack on the conveyor belt and wait for an agent to nod her through. Another would run a security wand around her diminutive frame while she stood arms out, legs spread.
She’d collect her belongings, slip on her shoes and hurry to first period.
“They never said anything to us,” she said, standing outside her school one recent evening. “There was no relationship at all. They just stared at the monitors. They treated us like criminals. It made me hate school. When you cage up students like that it doesn’t make us safe, it makes things worse.”
This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity