NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Local leaders put forward recommendations to the New York City Department of Education on Thursday for finding new ways to tackle trauma in schools.

They’re calling for more “healing-centered” schools after a challenging year and a half, CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported.

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“Let’s get rid of all the school practices that traumatize us,” said Keneisha Buckley, a 16-year-old student from Queens, who was chosen to represent her peers and speak at a rally outside City Hall.

“Why do the students like me have to go and see a police officer… the first thing they see… in the school building?” Keneisha said, expressing their concerns. “Why is it that students are late to class? Because they have to through metal detectors.”

Keneisha is part of the Healing-Centered Schools Working Group, which is asking the DOE to reevaluate its approach to school safety and discipline.

The group, consisting of parents, teachers, politicians and mental health advocates, wants the city’s schools to undergo a culture shift with a greater focus on mental health.

“Schools were not equipped to service our children who are suffering,” said Rasheedag Brown Harris, an advocate for healing-centered schools.

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Advocates say students are processing COVID trauma, the loss of loved ones, hate crimes, police brutality and a racial justice movement.

“I’ve been very shocked about what was happening throughout this whole year. My friends and I were talking about it a lot,” said student Mei-Li McClanahan.

The group is asking the DOE to adopt new disciplinary and safety policies. For example, they suggest therapy instead of detention and more social workers instead of more metal detectors.

“Let’s say a child gets into a fight and, that would’ve normally been met with suspension,” said the group’s Tom Sheppard. “The way that this works now is, the school will actually meet with that student, meet with their parents, figure out what’s going on with this child.”

The DOE said it reviewed the suggestions and already adopted several, such as adding 500 social workers and 100 school psychologists. It said 75,000 staff members received trauma response training and emotional screeners were expanded to identify struggling students.

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Members of the Healing-Centered Working Group said they will be closely monitoring progress when students return in the fall.

Natalie Duddridge