NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City officials announced a new program Wednesday to tackle trauma in schools.

As CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported, the idea has been in the works for years, but officials say it’s more important now than ever.

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From COVID trauma, losing loved ones or jobs, watching stories of police brutality on the news, or experiencing racial profiling, themselves, all kinds of issues have risen to the surface. It’s a lot for young minds to take in.

“Young people have been going through home insecurities for a very long time,” said Crystal Reyes, programming director for Sisters and Brothers United. “We have a lot of homeless young people in schools, young people who are LGBT… Facing family members deported, arrested, harassed by police.”

“The most that we can do to try to honor some of the people we’ve lost and the trauma that we’ve gone through is not return to normal, because normal just didn’t work for far too many people,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams added.

Elected officials announced a first-of-its-kind task force to find a new way to address disciplinary and safety policies in schools that are based on healing, rather than punishment.

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“Things that would normally trigger a discipline response, healing-centered schools use restorative justice,” task force member Ruezalia Watkins said. “What happens is that a group of students, everyone gets together, and it’s almost like a court.”

For example, instead of detention, perhaps therapy. Instead of more metal detectors, more social workers.

New York City is studying a program underway in Schenectady that’s doing just that.

“They replaced their traditional suspension process with a diversion program that connects students with long-term mental health resources,” working group member Katrina Feldkamp said. “After implementing those changes, they saw physical altercations dropped by 40%, and they saw their graduation rate among suspended students increase… The dropout rate went from 25% down to 2%.”

The new task force won’t be rolled out just yet. First, parents, teachers and students are invited to share their feedback in listening sessions that will take place in all five boroughs starting Thursday.

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After the months-long community engagement series, the task force will create a list of recommendations that it will put before the city, hoping they’ll be implemented in schools.

Natalie Duddridge